Not mine, not yours, but theirs. No money,anywhere. ::sigh::
Lyrics from My Grownup Christmas List open each part. Thanks to Bluewolf, who beta'd for me. <G> Stay healthy, girl, we love you! Also Thanks to TSL's.
Warnings: Um, this is an alyjude story? That should be warning enough. Make
the sign of the cross and head
Fifteen minutes was a long time to stand in front of a closet. Fifteen minutes and counting. Hell, all Jim had to do was reach out and take the suit. Only problem was - if he did, he'd have to put it on, and if he put it on, he'd have to go. If he went - he'd lose it - and 'not losing it' had been the only thing keeping him sane the last four months.
But if he took the suit down, put it on, and went - he 'would' lose it.
Fascinated, Jim watched a shaking, thin, too-pale hand take the suit from the hanger.
Evidently he was going.
Simon adjusted his tie, then stared at the strange man who glared back at him from the other side of the mirror. Unless he was mistaken, the other Simon's expression was definitely accusatory. Simon turned away and snapped off the bathroom light.
Walking down the hall and into the living room, he experienced another surge of gratitude for his ex-wife's refusal to allow Daryl to spend Christmas with him. Tonight would have been that much more difficult if it had included Daryl.
Simon picked up his coat from the back of the chair where he'd draped it earlier, slipped it on, and double checked that he had his keys. With a last glance at his home, he flipped off the light and walked out. Unlocking his car door, he glanced back at the dark silent house and swore that he would decorate before Daryl did arrive on the twenty-sixth.
Megan stood on the sidewalk, and as Pete slipped his suit jacket on, she looked up at the church steeple. It stood bright and serene against the night sky, but Megan took no comfort in the sight. She knew this evening was special-important- but that knowledge didn't erase the sadness.
"Ready to go inside?" Pete asked solicitously.
"No," she said honestly.
Pete's arms came around her waist and gratefully she leaned into his strength. This was going to be a hard evening. She wondered how Jim would cope tonight. Would he show?
God, she almost hoped not.
Simon pulled into the parking lot of the Good Shepherd Church, circled once, found a space, and swung in. He shut off the engine and lights, then having no desire to get out, he sat back. Others were moving up the brick steps to the church and Simon thought he recognized a few faces, but no one from Major Crime. Of course, they could already be inside. Simon glanced around the parking lot and noticed that Jim's truck was absent. Holding up his wrist so that the nearby street lamp could illuminate the dial, he checked the time. Jim still had ten minutes. He'd be here. Of that, and little else, Simon was certain. He swiped a hand over his face, then, resigned, got out of the car.
Rafe and Henri rode silently in Taggert's car. Joel drove with a concentration that said, loud and clear, "Don't say a word." Rafe and Henri were acquiescing to his unstated wishes for the simple reason that neither of them had anything to say.
But if they did, they'd have questioned whether Jim would be at the church. None of the three could envision their friend 'not' being there - and yet - all three silently wondered if their friend was truly strong enough.
Jim gave a last look at the barren apartment, his gaze landing on the menorah that sat on the coffee table. Chanukah was long over but there it sat. It was the only item of Blair's still housed at 852 Prospect.
With a hopeless shake of his head, Jim walked out, shutting the door quietly behind him. There was no need to shut off a light -- Jim hadn't used any in four months.
On his way downstairs, Jim caught glimpses of holiday wreaths tacked onto the front doors of the other apartments. Only number 307 remained undecorated -- inside and out.
Outside, more of the holiday assaulted him. Lit wreaths hung from each lamp post and in almost every window - whether private residence or shop - Christmas was somehow displayed. Jim looked away, jogged over to the truck, climbed in and pulled onto Prospect.
Driving through the quiet but decorated streets, he tried desperately not to think. His route took him down Ocean Avenue and he winced. Damn, he should have remembered and taken a detour. Almost against his will he looked to his right and spotted the green belt that ran above the shoreline.
Joggers used it for their runs and it had always been a favorite spot for Sandburg. Jim's gaze rested on the picturesque railing that separated the grass from the marina, and finally on the anchored and tethered boats. For a reason he couldn't fathom, his mind went back to the last time he and Sandburg had stood at that railing--
//It was a warm evening in early September and Jim sat at home waiting for his absent partner. As the hour drew later and the temperature remained high, he intuitively knew that Sandburg would be at the Marina, the only place in the city with a breeze.
Jim had been hearing rumors for days that Sandburg was going to ask a fellow student named Virginia to marry him. Now, hoping that Sandburg would be alone at the Marina, Jim decided to quiz him about the gossip. He picked up his keys and headed out.
During the drive, he tried to find the right words -and the courage- to ask Sandburg about the rumor. Just that morning he'd overheard Rhonda telling Conner that she'd seen Sandburg in a jewelry store purchasing a wedding ring. For Jim, the strange thing about the whole idea of Blair getting married was that no one had met Virginia. Sandburg had yet to introduce her to anyone, Jim included. Of course, Jim may not have actually met her yet, but he had seen the tall willowy brunette.
Just last Monday; he'd gone to the university in hopes of taking Sandburg to lunch. He'd found the younger man sitting at a table in the library with a woman. Their heads had been bent together as they studied and talked, and Jim hadn't missed Blair whispering Virginia's name. Jim had immediately changed his mind and left without so much as a hello.
Now while looking for his partner, he found himself wondering about Virginia. Wondering what she had that could so entrance Sandburg that he'd ask her to marry him? Jim finally spotted Blair not far from the Harbor Master's office. He parked and walked slowly toward his friend, still uncertain about what -- and how -- to ask about marriage plans, Virginia, and the recently purchased wedding ring.
Coming alongside his friend, Jim found himself at a loss for words, so simply said, "Somehow, I knew I'd find you here, Chief."
"Hey, man, coolest place in town."
Jim nodded and both men went silent while they watched the bay light up in the approaching darkness. Finally Jim shifted his gaze from the view to his partner.
The younger man stood easily at the railing, the breeze ruffling his now short curls. He wore his work clothes, and even though the flannel had given way to chambray shirts and chinos - not to mention the occasional suit and tie - the man was still Sandburg. The frenetic energy might have been somewhat tamed, and words were fewer now, but Jim was still looking at his "Chief".
Of course, Sandburg was now "Doctor Sandburg", which was why he'd finally abandoned the comfortable look of his TA days.
It had been two years since Major Crime had attended the ceremony and dinner that brought Blair his doctorate, and while everyone had assumed that Blair would move out, he hadn't. Neither man had been able to find a single good reason why he should, so he'd stayed.
He was also on the payroll to the Cascade Police Department and worked exclusively with Jim in an offshoot of Major Crime called the Special Crimes Unit. They still reported to Simon, but Jim was now a Lieutenant. Sandburg, in an effort to be of even more use to the PD, had gone back to school for his degree in psychology, which was how he'd met Virginia.
In all reality, their lives hadn't changed much since Blair had received his doctorate (on a subject other than sentinels). Both simply had more responsibility and more money. In fact, Sandburg made more money than Jim, and while that had been the source of some good-natured ribbing, the truth was that Jim was thrilled that his partner was finally reaping the monetary rewards he deserved.
While Jim continued to stare at his friend, he finally found the nerve to bring up Virginia.
"So - I understand that you're thinking of getting married, Chief?" he asked with a smile.
"Where did you hear that?" Blair responded softly.
"You know the rumor mill in a police department, Sandburg. This rumor even has you buying a ring at Winston Jewelers."
Jim could see the wry half-smile that graced his partner's face as he said, "Gotta love those rumor mills."
Jim was about to ask more, but their pagers started a synchronized duet and a couple of minutes later they were rolling on a case, Virginia all but forgotten.//
Staring out his window at the Marina now, Jim remembered that later September evening, after work, he'd given serious thought to getting back together with Carolyn. She'd been in town that week and the two of them had met for a couple of lunches and dinners. She'd been less than subtle about her desire to "try again" as she'd put it. In fact, the same day Jim had heard the ring rumor, he'd talked briefly with Simon about Carolyn's desires, and hadn't been able to give his boss and friend a definitive answer about a possible reconciliation.
Only later, when following Blair to the scene of their call-out, had Jim thought that reuniting with his ex might not be such a strange notion.
As it had turned out, he'd told Caro no. He liked his life, even if he was about to lose his best friend to a psych major named Virginia.
The light ahead went red, thus bringing Jim back to the present. He slowed to a stop and so did his mind. Caro had flown back to San Francisco and was now engaged to a nice captain with the SFPD, and tonight, tonight Jim and many others would gather at the Good Shepherd Church and--
The light went green and Jim stomped down on both his thoughts and the accelerator.
The church was small, quaint, and non-denominational. Candles were lit near the altar and flowers were gathered on either side of the lectern. The lighting was very dim and soothing, the flickering candles adding a touch of beauty to the simple interior of the church. A lovely stained glass window rose tall behind the altar and the full Christmas Eve moon gave life to every color in the window.
At the back of the church, Simon stepped forward in line and was met by a man who held out a small leaflet. Simon took it without glancing down. He spotted his crew and made his way over. Rafe stood quickly and the others slid over to make room for their boss. Once settled, no one spoke. There was nothing to say.
Soft music played in the background and Simon was grateful that it wasn't Christmas music. A voice whispering in his ear caught his attention.
"Jim just walked in, Simon," Joel said.
Simon twisted his head around and nodded. He got up, walked down the aisle, and before Jim could slink into a back row, took his arm and guided him to the MC pew. The fact that Jim didn't protest told Simon all he needed to know. Everyone made room again, but this time, somehow, Jim ended up in the middle of the row, flanked on both sides by his friends. It seemed right.
A hand landed on his shoulder and Jim looked down, then sideways and back. It was Megan. "I'm glad you came, Jim," was all she said. He managed to smile wanly and nod at Pete, who nodded back.
For the first time since arriving, Jim looked at the altar. He'd known this would be the most difficult part, but he owed it to Sandburg. At the sight that greeted him, he gasped, then choked back a sob. He was going to lose it, and he was going to lose it bad. A strong black hand took his and squeezed hard. Jim glanced to his right and into the dark tear-filled eyes of Joel Taggert. Jim found his internal balance again, nodded his thanks, then looked back at the altar.
Three easels stood in a half-circle in front of the lectern. On each easel was a blow-up of a photograph. All three photos were framed with black crepe paper.
Jim had never met the woman whose face graced the photo on the left, but everyone knew that Officer Connie Esquevara had died during a family disturbance call. She'd been shot in the head by a fourteen-year-old boy who'd been trying to kill his father. At thirty-six years of age, she left behind a mother, father, two sisters and her husband of three weeks.
The photo to the right was of forty-six year old Detective Randall Sutton, a twenty-year veteran who'd been knifed in a bar. He, along with several other officers and detectives, had been trying to stop a small riot that had broken out following the Lakers winning the NBA championship. The man who'd stabbed Sutton had been a rabid Jags fan, and at the time of the riot, had been three sheets to the wind. Randy Sutton left behind his wife of twenty-five years, three children and four grandchildren.
The evening's service at the Good Shepherd Church represented a new tradition with the force, namely a memorial service on Christmas Eve to honor those men and women of the Cascade Police Department who had fallen during the year.
In 2002, three officers had been killed in the line of duty.
Jim's gaze was finally pulled, almost hypnotically, to the middle photo.
It was an enlargement of the photo ID taken for new credentials. The man was smiling; short dark curls framing his strong handsome face.
Doctor Blair Sandburg, Special Consultant to the SCU of Major Crime, thirty-two years old, killed September twenty-second at five-thirty in the afternoon.
Sandburg had been shot in the back when he threw himself in front of a pregnant woman and Daryl Banks. Jim remembered all too well how, at four-thirty in the afternoon on September twenty-second, he and Sandburg had been called to the Saul Morris Memorial Park when a man by the name of Michael Alder had taken several people hostage. The man was the alleged lover of one of the hostages, Pamela Billings.
Mrs. Billings had broken up with Alder upon discovering that she was pregnant - with her husband's child. Michael didn't take the news of the break-up well and had finally flipped out. He bought a gun, and on the day that Pam spent teaching senior citizens how to paint, he'd stormed the recreation hall waving the weapon and insisting that Pam leave her husband.
As it happened, Daryl Banks had also been at the park that day working as a camp counselor. He still had three weeks before reporting to Rainier University as a freshman. He'd been in the storage room of the same hall where Alder made his stand, and it had been a call from his cell phone that had alerted the police. Oddly enough, Michael Alder never knew that Daryl was there.
The police had swarmed the park and the negotiating team of Ellison and Sandburg took over. Once the scene had been secured, it had taken Blair less than thirty minutes to talk Michael into surrendering. Arms in the air, the man had come out and immediately been arrested and carted off. The hostages were brought out and paramedics had been on hand to help. The last two people to exit the building had been Daryl assisting a very distraught Pam Billings.
What no one could have known was that Adam Billings had heard of the situation and was there, in the crowd, with his own gun. He'd moved through the throng of released hostages and when he was within range, had pulled the weapon with every intent of shooting down his adulterous wife.
//Jim was standing in front of an anxious Simon, reporting out, when he smelled the new scent of gun oil. Turning, he spotted a man raise his arm and take aim.
Several feet away, Sandburg approached Daryl and Mrs. Billings. He heard movement, several gasps, and immediately turned toward the commotion. He spotted the man a split second after Jim.
Sandburg calculated the distance between himself and Daryl, then made a powerful dive in an effort to place his body between Daryl, the woman, and the gunman. At the same moment, Jim yelled out a warning -- and the gunman fired.
In slow motion, Jim watched Blair's body twist in mid-air, then fall slowly to the ground. By the time Jim reached him, the sidewalk beneath Blair was dark with his blood.
With great care, Jim lifted the wounded man and cradled him in his arms. Every sentinel sense told him what he didn't want to know; Blair Sandburg was dying.
There was so much Jim wanted to say to Blair, but there was no time to do anything, no chance to entreat Blair to stay. Kneeling on the bloody sidewalk in front of the park building, hearing the beloved heart slow, Jim wanted nothing more than for Blair to open his eyes -- one last time. Instead, Blair raised an impossibly weak hand, and as blood bubbled up and out of his mouth, Jim leaned down and heard one word, "you", then -- nothing. Blair had just taken his last breath on Earth.
When the paramedics tried to take Blair from him, Jim fought until Simon, with softly spoken words, got through to him. With pain and reluctance, Jim let Blair go.
The next several hours went by in a haze. All that Jim knew for certain was that Blair ... was dead.
Simon called William Ellison and somehow managed to reach Naomi.
Three days later Jim found himself standing with Naomi in a synagogue while useless words of comfort were spoken. Two weeks after that, they were in a small plane flying over the Chopec Valley, scattering the last remains of Doctor Blair Sandburg.
Naomi tried to stay with Jim, but finally in late October, the memories brought forth by Cascade and the loft proved too much and she left the country.
Once alone, Jim lost several pounds and while he tried to hide it, he knew his friends were worrying. Unfortunately, without Naomi, Jim found himself a hostage to all the truth and pain that Blair's death had triggered. He was discovering that he had fewer and fewer reasons to go on living.
But he kept trying. He knew how easy it would be to shut down his sentinel senses, but he didn't. To do so would dishonor Blair. He chose to remain a cop and alive for the same reason. But now that he was once again alone, he found that facing his love for Blair after Blair's death was his undoing. As the weeks crawled by, Jim allowed the depression to increase, and with it, his desire for death.
Life without Sandburg was simply not life.//
Jim stared at the enlarged photo of Blair. He wanted nothing more than to raise his hand and touch the picture in order to trace an invisible line down the strong jaw, to feel stubble and life, warmth and skin. But that was impossible.
The memorial service began.
People walked up to the podium and talked of their loved ones or their fallen friends. Simon spoke of Blair, of his energy, dedication, and of the 'heart' he'd brought to Major Crime. Jim heard not a word, too lost in his sense memory.
As everyone spoke, he found himself listening to his partner's voice and remembering his laugh. He remembered how Sandburg's hair thrilled the sentinel's senses, and how his pulse could feel racing beneath sentinel fingers. Jim dug deep and called up Blair's scent, then closed his eyes to revel in it.
Lost in the bright darkness of his memory, Jim Ellison prayed to be released so that he could join Blair. He prayed -- and he railed against the unfairness of Blair's death. He cursed himself and prayed again for release, knowing that even if it came, he'd be forced to refuse. Blair would hate him for giving up. So for Blair -- he had to continue.
Jim closed his eyes and dreamed of his partner. In the smallest, darkest corner of his soul, he begged for a miracle.
"Go on ahead," Simon instructed his friends. "Jim needs some privacy right now. I'll watch over him."
The others looked past Simon to the huddled figure still in the church pew.
"He looks so - alone - Simon," Megan said softly.
"He is, Megan. No matter how much we're here for him, ultimately he's without Blair, and therefore alone."
Everyone nodded at the truth of Simon's words. A few hugs were exchanged and the detectives of Major Crime walked out of the church. Simon turned back to join his friend.
As he walked down the aisle, he found a small part of himself praying for a miracle. Jim wasn't the only feeling the loss of Blair Sandburg.
Simon concentrated on his friend and wasn't surprised to find that Jim had moved to stand in front of the last remaining photo. He felt the emotion tugging at him, begging for release, but he refused to give in. His own grief and guilt would have to wait.
"Jim, I know you want to stay, but the more I think about it, the more I dislike the idea. Please come home with me?"
As if he'd heard not a word, Jim said, "I love him, Simon. Why couldn't I have admitted it while he was alive?"
Puzzled, but not shocked by the admission, Simon asked, "What good would telling him have done, Jim? Aren't you the one who told me that he was getting married?"
"Yes, but I know it was only because he never received the sign from me that he needed. We'd become so close in the months before he -- before his --" Jim couldn't finish. He coughed, then swallowed hard and said, "Sometimes we'd look at each other and this ...something ... would pass between us, you know? It was like we were both thinking the same thing. But I kept finding excuses for ignoring what was happening, and what I don't understand is -- why?"
He turned back to the photo. "Why, Chief? Why would I back off like that? You were offering me everything, and all I had to do was accept it. Why couldn't I do that?"
Simon stared at the smiling face in the photo. Jim was right, but too late in the realization of it. Blair had been offering all that he was to Jim for God knew how long. Simon finally said the only truth he knew that could help. "Jim, he knows."
"Does he, Simon?" Jim asked, a touch of hope in his voice.
"I'm sure of it, Jim. Now please, come home with me."
"Go home, Simon. I just need some time. I'll - join you later, I promise."
Simon rested his hand on Jim's shoulder, knowing that for now, Jim was safe. He'd made a promise. "All right, but if you're not at my place by midnight, I'm putting out an APB," he teased lightly.
Jim smiled but said nothing. Simon turned around and walked slowly out of the church. Outside, he pulled his coat close and shivered slightly. It felt like snow. He gazed up. The night was still and silent, the sky dotted with diamond-like stars that twinkled almost merrily. Simon found himself thinking that Blair would have loved it. He took a deep breath and walked down the steps. He needed to go home and call his son, who was celebrating the holiday because of Blair Sandburg.
"I'm sorry, Chief. So sorry. Simon was right, wasn't he? You're listening to me and you know the truth. But can you forgive me?"
There was no answer. Jim turned away. It was time to go. As he climbed into the truck, he knew that he had to go past the marina one last time. He started the engine, backed out of his space and turned left out of the parking lot.
Driving toward the bay, he thought that he should call his father tonight. Steven too.
Stopped at a red light, a question that had dogged his every step for the last four months revisited him.
Why hadn't he been able to retrieve Blair?
He'd tried; God knew he'd tried. Fought to find the light, to go in after Sandburg, but nothing had happened. Why? Was it because Blair had died at the fountain due to his sentinel, but on the sidewalk in a park, Blair had died in the line of duty? Was that it? That no matter what, Jim couldn't interfere with that which had been -- what -- ordained? Even as he thought it, his mind was screaming "NO! BLAIR'S DEATH WAS WRONG*!" Jim knew that it shouldn't have happened, knew that if things had been different, Blair would still be alive.
He stared out his windshield and felt anger rise again only to be replaced by painful regret. "I should have told you, Chief," he said out loud. "Three words and I know you'd be alive now. I know it. It's funny because I understand that I can't change what happened, but I keep thinking about it, and ultimately I come back to something you always said. Something about how it's never too late."
Jim stomped on the brakes and the truck skidded to a stop. With fingers tightening on the wheel, he said, "Is it true, Chief? Is it true that it's never too late?" He stared hard out the windshield and finally said, "Okay, buddy, I trust you. You hear me? I believe you and your words, so here goes. You listening?"
He waited to the count of five, then said with all the pent up emotion inside of him, "I love you, Chief. I love you." Nothing happened. Laughing almost hysterically, Jim stepped on the accelerator and the truck jumped ahead. He didn't slow down until the Marina appeared on his left.
Gaily lit, holiday-decorated boats bobbed on the small waves but he had no desire to pull over. He felt suddenly hopeless. He turned his attention back to the road and immediately jammed on the brakes again.
"What the hell?"
Jim had never seen anything like it. One minute it had been completely clear, the next, a bank of shimmering fog hovered over the road. Jim shook his head in disbelief.
Grateful that no one had been behind him when he jammed on his brakes, he drove slowly, almost fearfully, forward. The wispy tendrils of the fog seemed to reach for him and suddenly that suited Jim just fine.
"Go ahead, take me," he challenged just as the front of the truck sliced into the heavy mist. A moment later he was surrounded by fog.
With a perverse sense of humor, Jim started to whistle the theme from the Twilight Zone. Almost instantly, the fog thickened. Jim might have continued to dare the strange mist --and fate-- but the overwhelming need to protect others forced him to pull carefully to the curb.
"Chicken shit," Jim murmured as he shut off the engine. Feeling strangely penned in, Jim opened the door of the truck and climbed out. He walked around the front of the vehicle and stepped onto the curb. He was on the bay side, and even though the fog was swirling around him, he moved unerringly toward the railing.
Drawing closer to the railing, the fog seemed to grow lighter. The colorful Christmas lights on the boats could just be seen. He kept going, drawn by a strange necessity. The fog seemed to swirl and eddy, like the ocean's tide, and Jim was almost certain that he could see the shadow of a man standing at the railing. For some reason, he sped up.
He was almost there when the last of the fog simply disappeared, leaving behind the same crisp night, starry sky, full moon, and Christmas lights twinkling on the bay. Music from the Pavilion floated across the water and Jim recognized the song as Silent Night. A strange tingle shivered its way up his spine and he started to breathe in small pants. The silhouette at the railing began to take on substance.
Unaware of his actions, Jim paused. The man looks so -- familiar, he thought.
Jim cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. "Turn your head," he pleaded in a whisper. The man turned to the right and Jim could see the strong profile. Again, barely aware of his actions, he began to walk steadily forward. As he drew closer, he noted the long black cashmere coat and short dark curls that just brushed the turned up collar. The man had one hand stuffed in a pocket of the expensive coat, the other on the railing. He seemed sad and pensive as he stared out over the water.
Heart thudding in his chest, emotion clogging his breathing, Jim drew up alongside the man and placed his own shaking hands on the railing. Without looking at him, Jim said, "I figured I'd find you here, Chief."
"Hey, you know me. Can't pass up this view on Christmas Eve, man. I should have called, but you know I'd never be late--"
"Don't worry about it, Chief. Like I said, I knew you'd be here."
The words coming from his mouth seemed so foreign, but considering that he was standing next to a man four months dead, Jim decided to go along with whatever was happening. With a sense of deja-vu, he asked, "Did you know the latest rumor circulating around the department is that you're going to ask someone to marry you?"
Blair continued to stare out over the water, as he said, "No kidding. Is the rumor mill supplying a name?"
Eyes fixed on the boats, Blair said nothing, but Jim had the feeling that he was hurting. Maybe he'd asked Virginia and she'd said no?
The sense of strangeness persisted as he stared at his friend's profile. Blair was thirty-two and the young grad student Jim met six years ago was long gone. The man standing beside him now was older, his dark curly hair already showing threads of silver. His face had matured, but the last six years rested lightly in each wrinkle.
Jim didn't know if this was a dream or some cosmic joke, but he figured he had nothing to lose by going with the flow.
"Why would anyone think I was going to ask Virginia to marry me?" Blair suddenly asked, genuinely puzzled.
Puzzled himself, Jim said, "Why not? She's the one you've been seeing regularly."
"Well, yeah, because she's my study buddy. But sheesh, Jim, she's ten, eleven years younger than me. She's just a kid. And by the way? Study buddy is her term, not mine, God forbid."
Okay, this was new, Jim thought. "Study buddy?" he asked, almost breathless.
"Yeah." Suddenly Blair turned and faced him. "Hey, you didn't think I was dating her, did you? I mean, hell, Jim, don't you know that I'd have introduced you? But I'm serious when I say that girl is way too young for me. Man, even if I were twenty-six, Virginia would be too young."
"Rhonda said she saw you buying a wedding ring, Sandburg," Jim said stupidly.
Turning back to the water, Blair said softly, "Oh - that."
It was on the tip of Jim's tongue to say, "Yes, that. So who is she?" but something stopped him. A seventh sense that seemed to exist for Blair, a sense designed for Blair alone, told Jim that this was it - his "it's never too late" second chance.
"Is there a ring, Chief?" he asked, his voice sounding both hopeful and gentle.
Blair nodded but continued to stare out over the water. From across the bay, another Christmas song started playing, this one about someone's grown-up Christmas list. With the fog gone, Jim was able to spot the source; a party at the Pavilion. He could see the guests mingling together, glasses of wine in their hands, their laughter drifting across the water with the song. He didn't recognize the tune, but he liked the lyrics.
"Yeah, there's a ring," Blair said, interrupting Jim's thoughts.
"So what, you changed your mind about offering it?"
Blair nodded slowly.
His partner shrugged and said, "They seem to be thinking about getting back with an ex."
Letting out the breath he'd been holding, Jim said as he moved closer, "You know, the entire department misconstrued your meetings with Virginia. Isn't it possible you're misunderstanding something?"
He could see Blair's forehead crease in thought and he bit back a smile when his friend turned back to him. "I suppose so," Blair said carefully. "Would you like to -- see -- the ring?"
Heart doing flip-flops in his chest, Jim nodded. "I'd like to ... very much."
He watched as Blair reached into a pocket and slowly withdrew a small velvet box. Without another word, Blair held out his hand, the box resting in his palm. Almost afraid, Jim took it, then carefully pulled back the lid.
Nestled in white satin sat a wide silver band with a series of intricate engraved symbols.
"It's white gold, Jim," Blair whispered. "The symbols are--"
"Chopec for 'I love you'," Jim finished for him.
"Yes," Blair breathed out. "But of course, you'd know that, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, I would, Chief. Yes, I would." Jim took the ring from its nest and let the moonlight, Christmas lights, and the street lamp, illuminate it. It sparkled in the now silent night, star-like rays shooting out from the silver circle. Even if he hadn't been a sentinel, he would have known instinctively that it would fit his ring finger.
"You know, Blair, life is all about second chances," he mused softly, entranced by the ring held between two fingers.
Blair chuckled and said, "And here I thought it was all about sex."
Grinning now, Jim said, "Okay, let me amend that statement; life is all about second chances 'and' sex." Jim dropped his voice and added, "I know you don't understand what I'm saying, but I've just been given one. A second chance I mean, and I find that with that knowledge, I've become -- bold." He let the ring drop into his palm, then faced Blair. "This is for me, isn't it?"
There was a slight pause, then Blair said sentinel soft, "Yes."
"Then would you place it where it belongs?"
A breath caught in Blair's throat but with a shaking hand, he picked up the ring. Jim held out his left hand and that seemed to be the final signal for Blair. His face broke into a grin as he slipped the band over Jim's ring finger. It was, naturally, a perfect fit.
"I guess this makes me Jim Sandburg."
"Don't change the linens, man."
His hand was still being held within Blair's protective grip and Jim smiled lazily as Blair's thumb ran over the band that now rested on his finger.
"I love you, Chief."
"Thank you, Jim."
Suddenly afraid that Blair was about to disappear, Jim pulled the younger man into his arms almost angrily. "You're not going anywhere, Sandburg," he said fiercely.
"No intention of it - ever. You're stuck with me now, wifey."
Jim blinked at that, then grinned. It was real. He knew it now. He'd been given his second chance and it wasn't going to disappear. Time had somehow morphed together, combining two periods of Jim's life into this moment. Later, much later, he and Blair would talk, but for now, he was content to live in the moment and accept his gift for the miracle that it was.
Laughing with abandon, Jim bent his head and tasted Doctor Blair Sandburg for the first time.
When they surfaced for a breather, Jim whispered into Blair's ear, "Let's go home."
"Sounds good to me. By my calculations, we have almost two hours before we're expected at Simon's."
Shocked, Jim reared back and asked, "Simon's?"
Blair ran a finger over Jim's lower lip as he said, "One kiss and your memory is history. Christmas party at Simon's tonight, remember?"
"Party. At Simon's. Right. In an hour, did you say?"
Blair gave a little "tsk" and said, "Almost two, Jim. Two hours." Then he grinned rakishly. "But hey, we can accomplish a great deal in a couple of hours, if we leave now. I'll follow you."
He started to move from Jim's arms, but suddenly afraid again, Jim held fast. "No. We'll go in the truck. We can pick up the Volvo later, like -- Tuesday."
Now it was Blair's turn to look puzzled and shocked. "Volvo? I haven't had the Volvo since -- well, since -- you know. The shooting. Billings totaled it when he tried to escape." Blair reached up and knocked on the side of Jim's head. "Hello? Anyone there?"
Arms tightening, Jim buried his face in Blair's short curls. Breathing in his scent, he asked, "Remind me, Chief? I think I'm finding you a little -- overwhelming tonight."
Chuckling, Blair shook his head in disbelief. "Billings tried to kill his wife, remember? I got to her and Daryl, you got to him, but not before he got off one shot. When you realized that I'd been hit, you rolled away from him.
"He got up, stole one of the emergency vehicles, threw it into drive and took off. Unfortunately, my car was in the way. The guy seriously underestimated old Volvos, man."
Jim closed his eyes and sent up a prayer of thanks. He drew back, opened his eyes and gazed down at Blair's upturned face. "I love you, you know," he said so quietly that only a sentinel, or a sentinel's soul, could have heard.
"I know, Jim. I know. Can we go home now?"
Jim nodded, tucked Blair into his side, and headed for the truck. "By the way, remind me what kind of car you replaced the Volvo with?"
"Over there. The snazzy blue Bonneville."
Jim looked -- and smiled. Pretty cool car.
Jim pulled into his parking spot and glanced over at Blair, who smiled secretively. Both men got out and almost ran to the lobby. They elbowed each other out of the way, each trying to be the first to the elevator. Blair won. He pushed the button and when the doors slid open, he grabbed Jim's jacket and pulled him inside. As it started to move, Blair pulled again and they kissed long and deep.
The journey to number 307 was a combination of laughter and passion-filled kisses. By the time Blair got the door open, both men were panting. Blair kept tugging at Jim as he tried to get the bigger man inside, but Jim stumbled, hit the door with his shoulder, and was in turn hit on the head by something.
He rubbed the top of his head and watched as a laughing Sandburg bent and picked up -- a Christmas wreath. He placed it back on their front door, then took Jim's hand. "Come on, man, time's a wasting."
Once inside, Blair turned on one light before latching onto Jim's lips again. The kiss took on an urgency that all previous kisses hadn't, an urgency that had nothing to do with Simon's party.
Jim was losing himself and it was a great feeling. His arms and legs were weightless, and seemed to be molding themselves to Blair. A part of him was aware that Sandburg's hands were unbuttoning his shirt even as the younger man's tongue danced joyously within Jim's mouth.
The swirling vortex that was Jim's body screamed out that it was being bombarded and would soon lose all ability to function if a time-out wasn't called. With great reluctance, Jim managed to pull away so that he had his mouth back again. Panting, he said, "Zone -- gonna zone--"
Smiling dazedly up at him with dark, lust filled eyes, Blair said, "No way, man. I'd never let that happen. Trust me."
Jim blinked, then grinned. "Two words I believe in with my heart and soul, Chief."
"What happened to 'two of the scariest words in the English language?'"
Jim shrugged even as he slipped a hand inside the back of Blair's slacks. "What can I say? I've finally seen the light?"
"Well, hallelujah, light."
Jim chuckled and started to maneuver Sandburg backward. Blair stumbled, but Jim caught him easily. Both glanced down and realized that the floor was littered with clothing. One suit jacket (Jim's), two coats, one shirt (Jim's) and one tie (Blair's). Blair gave a swift kick and the black cashmere coat slid out of harm's way. He was about to turn his attention back to kissing when he spotted the menorah on the coffee table. "Hey, how did that get there? I put it away back on the eighth."
With slightly glazed eyes, Jim looked in the direction that Blair was pointing and the night rushed back --along with the last four months. Jim stared at the menorah, then looked around his home.
Candles and wreaths and lights around the windows with garlands hanging from the railing of the balcony--
Warmth, light, masks, books, colorful pillows and afghans--
Yet there -- in the middle of the table -- sat the only sign that Jim had lived a different four months.
In a strange voice, he said, "I --missed-- you."
An arm slid around Jim's waist and Blair squeezed. "Aw, Jim. It was only one day in court. Besides, I kind of figured that the break would do us -- you --good. You've been sort of distant, you know?"
Jim smiled softly. "Yeah, Chief. I know. But that's over now, I promise. New beginnings, right?"
"Sounds good to me." Blair reached up and with hands that could fly expressively when trying to make a point or punctuate Blair's sentences, he undid Jim's tie. When he had each end in hand, he began to tug.
"Bed, now. We're running out of time, man."
Jim swooped down and captured those lips again. As the kiss deepened, Blair never let go of the tie. Both kept moving, with Blair pulling away long enough to redirect them to his room, saying, "No, my bed's closer--"
Chuckling, Jim allowed himself to be moved into the smaller room. Being surrounded by Blairness was AOK by him.
Once inside, Blair had to give up leading. The small lamp in the living room didn't provide enough light so the sentinel took over. He guided Blair to the bed, then surprised him by turning their bodies so that Jim could sit on the edge, Blair in front of him.
With only slightly shaking hands, he undid the younger man's slacks and pushed them down, along with his boxers. Sandburg's erection sprang free and bobbed enticingly before Jim.
"Beautiful," he whispered. "And mine," he added with a low growl.
Placing his hands on either side of Jim's head, Blair bent his until their foreheads were touching. "Yours," he whispered back. "But man, how you kept me waiting--"
Cupping Blair's ass, Jim began to make love to Blair. He nuzzled at his groin, teasing and caressing with his tongue, finally licking artfully at the now straining erection. Above him, Blair stared down with such love, that if Jim had seen it, he'd have broken completely.
When Jim took Blair's length into his mouth, he was rewarded by such a soul-deep groan that his own erection sprang back to life. As Blair started to pump in earnest, his hands now on Jim's shoulders, fingers gripping tightly, Jim closed his eyes and let his body and every sense explore and enjoy.
The taste and feel of Blair's dick in his mouth was sending chills up and down his spine, while at the same time, he could feel the sweat trickling down and gathering at the small of his back. His heart was pumping and it seemed to be keeping time with Blair's tight thrusts. When Blair came, it triggered the orgasm that ripped through Jim seconds later. He just managed to have the presence of mind to grab Blair around the waist and pull him down with him.
When he opened his eyes, it was to darkness. Jim blinked, focused -- then sat straight up and screamed, "BLAIR!"
The echo of his yell was still vibrating throughout the loft when Jim bolted from bed, panic ringing in his ears.
It had been a FUCKING dream.
"NO!" he screamed again as he started down the stairs on the run.
At the bottom, Jim spotted a shaft of light, then heard a blessed voice--
"What's wrong, man?"
Jim skidded to a stop as Blair walked into the living room from the hall and the bathroom. In his hand was a washcloth. Jim gulped and found that he couldn't speak. Tears sprang to his eyes and all he could do was shake his head back and forth, back and forth. The washcloth hit the floor with a squishy plop and Blair was at his side instantly.
"Jim? Please, you're scaring me here. What's wrong?"
God, he was so confused. Had they? What part of what was real? Was this real? Jim felt his knees give way and only Blair's arm around his waist kept him from falling to the floor. He felt himself moved to the couch and gently pushed down. He immediately closed his eyes and rested his head back on the cushion.
Bare feet padded away, then back, and a moment later something warm and soothing was moving across his chest. He opened one eye. Blair was wiping him off.
"We managed to get upstairs for round two, remember? We were too exhausted to clean up, so when I finally woke, I figured you'd appreciate this." He waved the cloth in front of Jim's face, then went back to washing.
Jim sniffed, then sniffed again. Sex. He smelled -- sex. Raw, undiluted, fantastic sex. He lifted his head -- and the first thing he saw was the menorah.
"Aw, God," he whispered.
Blair, sensing something strange, dropped the cloth and simply took Jim into his arms. After a moment, Jim's own arms found their way around him as Jim buried his head in Blair's neck. "Just hold me, Chief," he murmured. "Don't let go--"
"Never, Jim. Never," Blair promised with all that he had.
For thirty minutes, Blair held on. He held Jim as the older man sobbed and held as Jim quieted. He continued to hold as Jim began a strange exploration of his body, sniffing at his neck, his ears, nuzzling at his hair, and using his hands to map as much of Blair's body as he could reach. When Jim's left hand ghosted up Blair's back, Blair felt him stiffen when probing fingers found the fresh scar.
"This is it, isn't it?" Jim asked strangely. Blair nodded, not understanding, but not willing to rock the boat either. Jim was obviously going through something and all Blair could do was be there. He was good at that.
Slowly Jim pulled away, then gently turned Blair so that he could see the scar left by Billings' bullet. It was high and to the left.
"I twisted because I heard your yell," Blair stated quietly. "Saved my life. A little lower and--"
"I know," Jim said softly. "Believe me, I know." He leaned over and dropped the softest of kisses on the barely four-month-old scar.
"We should get ready, Jim. We're bringing the gi--"
"Ssh, just give me a few more minutes--" Blair relaxed against Jim, content to give the older man anything he wanted -- anytime.
Megan sat on the window seat of Simon's front window and stared out over the lawn. She could have sworn earlier that it would snow, but the sky was still clear, the full moon casting its silver beams over the grass. She was feeling strange, but wasn't sure why. Behind her, other members of Major Crime and their wives, husbands, dates, or significant others were milling about, talking quietly. It didn't feel like a Christmas party.
She turned away from the view and looked back at her friends. As she studied them, she realized that they were doing the same thing she was, namely -- waiting. She watched Rafe give Simon's front door several looks, then observed both Henri Brown and Joel Taggert doing the same.
Everything felt wrong -- yet right. And they were all -- waiting. She just wished she knew what they were waiting for.
Earlier that evening, when she woke from a strange nap, she found Peter bending over her, a smile on his face. "Hey, sleepy head, wake up. We've a party to go to, remember?"
She hadn't. At all. Then -- she had.
Megan rubbed the back of her neck. It was all so strange, she mused. She was just about to turn her attention to the view again when she spotted Simon looking at his front door. He was waiting too.
Jim turned off the headlights, but didn't move right away. Beside him, Blair waited. "Chief, I should probably explain this evening--"
"Uh-oh. This isn't the part where you say it was all a mistake, is it?" Blair half teased.
"Not a chance, Sandburg. You're stuck with me now, buddy. No, I mean -- about what happened, you know -- earlier--"
"Jim, it's okay. It doesn't matter, does it, really? I'm here, you're here, and we're together. Our friends are inside waiting for us, it's Christmas Eve and to top it off, we're in love. We make like festive, then we blow the joint, head home, and fuck like--"
Jim's laughter drowned out the rest of Blair's words. When he finally calmed down, he said as he wiped his eyes, "God, I love you, Sandburg."
"Well, ye-ah," Blair said with a wiggle of his head.
Together, they finally got out of the truck, but not before Blair reached under the seat and brought out a red shopping bag.
"Duh? Simon's gift? We were in charge of picking it out, remember?"
"We? I think not. You mean you."
"Well, ye-ah. I'm the only one with taste in the whole department, man."
"Come on, the night ain't getting any younger and neither are you, Sandburg."
As Jim stepped onto the curb, he didn't miss Blair's muttered, "Well, if I'm not, then neither are you --old man."
Jim bopped him on the side of the head. Blair waved his hand away, then scooted ahead of him, and whistling, started up the sidewalk to Simon's driveway. Jim watched a moment, then said softly, "Hey, Doc."
Sandburg stopped and turned around. Jim crooked his finger.
Megan took the drink Pete handed her and nodded when he asked her if she'd like some pretzels. No one was really eating any of the elaborate buffet because --again-- it seemed they were all waiting for something. As Pete walked away, she looked back out the window and immediately sat up straight.
On the sidewalk.
But -- just -- Jim.
A kind of darkness settled in her heart and she sighed deeply. Then she noticed Jim pausing -- and crooking his finger -- as if beckoning someone.
Megan strained to see who Jim was motioning to, but there was no one there. With a sense of loss, she looked back at Jim.
A moment later -- another figure came into view.
A man. Wearing a long dark coat. Megan's breath caught in her throat as she recognized the short dark curls.
As if caught in time, Megan watched as Blair walked slowly over to the taller man, but stopped just out of reach -- or so he thought. Jim cocked his head, then reached out one long arm and hooked two fingers in Blair's belt. He pulled the younger man into him and Megan's world righted, the darkness lifted, and the sense of waiting dissipated.
Suddenly the sounds of laughter, Christmas carols, and clinking glasses surrounded her. She stood rapidly and turned away from the view of Jim kissing Blair to announce, "They're here, everyone! They're here!"
Simon rushed out of the kitchen, his dark gaze meeting hers. Something passed between them, and she noted the tension leave his body and his face clear of all worry.
There were over thirty-five people in Simon's house, but somehow, five of them managed to meet in the middle and move as one to the front door.
Blair watched as Jim's fingers hooked his belt and tugged. With no resistance, he moved into Jim's arms. "They're waiting, Jim," he coaxed.
"Let 'em wait."
With that, Jim kissed him.
When they parted, lips red and eyes glazed, Blair lifted Jim's left hand and tenderly kissed the ring. At the same moment, small puffs of white drifted down to land amid the dark curls.
"It's snowing, Chief."
Blair lifted up his face and more white flakes landed in dark lashes. "What do you know, we're going to have a white Christmas after all. Mom's going to be thrilled when she gets here tomorrow."
"Mom? Tomorrow?" Jim squeaked.
Before Blair could answer, a chorus of "HEY, YOU GUYS? GET IN HERE! YOU'RE LATE!" rang out.
Blair twisted in Jim's arms and yelled back, "MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU TOO, GUYS!"
The moment the echo of Blair's last word faded, people spilled out into a night that was no longer silent. Laughing and tripping down the driveway, detectives swarmed around the pair, thumping them on the back and cheerily chastising their late status.
The only person still standing in the doorway was Simon.
He watched as Jim disengaged himself from the throng to stand back and allow the others to treat Blair as if they hadn't seen him for months.
For a moment, the jocularity faded and it seemed to Simon that on that Christmas Eve, only he and Jim stood in the night, the once again silent night. Their eyes met and Jim broke the mood by nodding happily. Simon let out a breath, reached out a tentative hand and observed the snow dropping onto his dark palm.
It was real. As real as the young man being led up the driveway by Simon's people.
Jim caught up with the men and women of Major Crime, insinuated himself into the circle, and without preamble, slid his arm around Sandburg's waist. No one seemed surprised, other than Sandburg himself. One look at Jim's face however, gave him all reassurance he needed.
The party moved into the house and suddenly everyone was dying of hunger. The buffet table was swamped in seconds, and again it was Simon and Jim who hung back. They watched, much like parents, while the party goers jostled each other in fun, poked and prodded, stole food from one another's plates, tossed olives and traded food and jokes.
Dishes were filled with juicy slices of roast beef and succulent turkey, apple chestnut stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, celery, carrots and peppers, sweet potato rolls, cranberry relish, and green beans in a tangy honey-mustard dressing. Wine was poured, along with cider and sodas. Neither Jim nor Simon were surprised to find that somehow, through no effort of his own, Sandburg's plate held the most food.
They were pleased when, as Simon's people left the buffet table, there just happened to be plates for the two men. Joel handed off one to Simon while Henri handed Jim his.
Every surface in Simon's home was soon filled by eaters, plates of food and glasses of refreshment. Blair made his way to Jim's side and Simon pointed to the two comfortable chairs that flanked the other picture window. Somehow, they'd remained empty. The two men hurried over and claimed them, Simon following and actually sitting on the floor between the two.
While they ate, they laughed, but couldn't explain why. The atmosphere of the party seemed almost surreal. Jim found himself reaching over every few minutes and simply touching Sandburg. During one of the touches, Simon noticed the ring on Jim's finger and one eyebrow arched. Seeing the look, Blair glanced over at his partner, who shrugged happily, giving him permission to explain.
"I guess you could say that I asked Jim to be my wife and he said yes," Blair teased wickedly.
Simon put down his fork, and staring at the two, finally said, "'Bout damn time."
"What's about 'damn time', sir?" Megan asked as she and Pete joined the group and took up residence on the floor with Simon.
"They're married," Simon said easily, a twinkle in his eye.
Megan's jaw dropped and Jim helped her out by flashing his ring. She finally gulped, and after letting out a whoosh of air, said a simple, "Wow, mates."
Pete reached out a hand and shook first with Jim, then with Sandburg. "Congratulations, you two. I'm surprised though. Megan's led me to believe that you were both cluele--"
He got no further, thanks to an Australian elbow in his ribs. Blair took pity on him and said, "No, not clueless, just -- slow. And--"
"Clueless," Jim finished for him.
Pursing his lips, Blair nodded sagely. "Yes, that would be the word."
Their laughter exploded, but Megan managed to say, "Not so clueless if Sandy purchased the ring."
Blair and Jim looked at each other, then Blair said with a smirk, "It's nice to know that even clueless, Jim, the great detective, can figure things out, eh?"
"Detective of the year--" Simon started to say, but Pete, Megan, Jim, and Blair, all held up two fingers and wiggling them in Simon's face, said together, "Two years in a row!"
Their laughter burst forth again and Simon gave in and joined them.
The party was winding down with most of the guests having said their "good-bye's and "thank you's" to Simon.
Only Rafe and his date, Joel and his wife, Henri and his date, and Megan and Pete remained. Simon was futzing with his gift, a hand-carved manger scene from Nigeria, while the others cleaned up for their boss. They moved silently but happily through out the house, gathering plates, drinks, and trash. As they passed one another, they shared secret smiles.
Simon looked up from arranging the pieces yet again and wondered if any of them would ever talk about the night. Probably not, he realized. Like the fountain, some things were best left alone. You could marvel at them, cherish them, hold them close, but it was best not to bring them to the forefront by discussing them. They might ... disappear. Happily, he went back to rearranging.
It was almost midnight as Jim drove home. Sandburg was seated next to him, as in next to him, his hand resting possessively on Jim's thigh. They were both stuffed to the gills and feeling warm and comfortable. The snow had remained light, the flakes still falling from the dark sky and dusting the world with their brightness. The windshield wipers seemed to be singing and Blair was humming under his breath. Jim had never felt such peace in his life.
Something on his left caught his eye and he flicked a glance in that direction, then for the third time in one night ... he slammed on his brakes, his right arm automatically going out to keep Blair in place.
"Jim?" Blair asked after catching his breath.
"That," Jim said breathlessly.
Blair looked around him and puzzled, said, "It's the Good Shepherd Church, man. Midnight service, you know?"
Jim did a u-turn and pulled up in front of the lovely white building. Staring up at the white steeple, he said softly, "I need -- to go inside for a moment, okay? You can stay--"
"Aw, man, please don't say, 'stay in the truck'," Blair whined.
Chuckling, Jim faced his love. "Okay, I won't. But you don't have to come in. This is just something - I need -- to do."
Blair made a little shooing motion. "Go, I'll wait."
Jim nodded, grateful for the understanding in Blair's eyes. He got out and joined the others who were approaching the church.
Blair climbed out and stood for a moment on the sidewalk, watching as Jim disappeared inside the church. Jim had never been an overly religious man, but Blair had always suspected that underneath the "I can do it myself and don't need anyone" attitude ran a deep-seeded belief in something stronger, something -- grander.
Blair had no clue as to what had happened to Jim tonight, or for that matter, everyone else at the party, but he too believed in a gentle hand guiding the world, and tonight he'd been given his greatest personal wish. How could he not give thanks and celebrate that fact with Jim? Did it matter the nature of the building in which he gave his thanks? His years traveling the world told him that it could be in a hut in South America, a mosque in Africa, a synagogue in New York, a temple in Japan, his own bedroom, or ... a small church in Cascade.
With a smile, Blair headed into the church.
Jim took a seat in the back pew, not sure what he planned to do. A choir of children were standing at the front of the church singing 'The First Noel' and for a moment, he simply watched and listened. Someone slid in next to him and he didn't have to look to know that it was Sandburg. Blair's hand slipped into his and he heard sentinel soft, "...in sickness and health, til death do us part -- and beyond, I do."
A gentle smile graced Jim's face as he whispered, fingers tightening their grip on Sandburg's hand, "I, Jim, take thee, Blair, from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part -- and beyond."
The End - Silent Night
Merry Christmas, everyone!