We Gather Together - Christmas and Chanuakah

by alyjude

Disclaimer: In spite of my girth and jolly demeanor ::snort:: I am NOT Mrs. Santa Claus

Notes: This picks up where the Thanksgiving story posted last month, left off. Please remember, this was written two years ago, and the dates for Chanuakah and Christmas represent the year 2000 (I think -- I'm getting old).
First appeared in the zine, We Gather Together, but has been changed.

Warning: Well, this is in the Jake universe and the sugar content is high. Add the fact that this *is* about a child's first real Christmas and Chanuakah, and well, come on, you know what you're getting into. <BG>


 

"Looks very good, Detective. Healing nicely. Now let me see how high you can lift your arm."

Blair, with the doctor's hand under his forearm, started to lift and got halfway to his shoulder before the sweat beaded up over his upper lip.

"O-kay, that's good enough. Starting Monday, I want you to begin some home exercises. I'll have my nurse give you the paperwork explaining--"

"I have a set, Doctor."

"You have... oh, of course, Detective Ellison's wound a few months ago. Well, that's exactly what I want you to start with on Monday, and not one day sooner. If everything goes well, I'll return you to modified a week from Monday. Right now, I'll send Betsy back in to redress this and you're free to go."

As the doctor turned to leave, he paused and added, with a glance at the purple sling hanging from the arm of the chair, "Maybe you'd like another sling? I have a nice tan-colored one--"

"Actually, I've really grown accustomed to this one, Doc. I think I'll keep it."
"Up to you. Betsy will be in a moment, then you can get out to the waiting room and calm your partner down. I'm amazed he actually allows you in here by yourself."

Chuckling, Blair said, "Me too, Doc. Me too."


"So everything's fine?"

"Like you weren't listening?"

"Right, so everything's fine."

"Everything's fine."

"And you kept the purple sling--"

"And I kept the purple sling. Beside, II like purple. So does Jake. I make a fashion statement."

"No comment."

"Good thinking."

They stepped out of the elevator, crossed the lobby of the medical building, then out into the rain. Jim put up the umbrella he'd carried in and they made a run for the truck. Once settled in the warmth of the truck, the umbrella dripping on the floor, Blair observed, "I'm thinking ... no park for Jake today."

"Yeah, well, we knew that was a possibility. If they were lucky, they got in some playtime before the heavens opened up."

"Fingers crossed."

Jim pulled out of the parking lot and as he turned toward Prospect, he reopened a discussion they'd started on their way to the doctor's.

"So, how will we balance Christmas and Chanukha?"

"What's to balance? I think the ceremony of lighting each candle will be great for Jake. Chanukah begins on December 21 and goes through the second of January, so he'll still be celebrating. It'll kind of stretch out the holiday, you know?"

"You make it sound so simple."

"It can be."

The signal at Evers and Via Rios went red, which gave Jim the perfect opportunity to look at Blair. The surprise on his face would have been appropriate if Blair had just said, "Before I became Blair Sandburg, I was Betty Sandburg" instead of, "It can be." Blair's response to the shocked look was to ask, "What? Did I suddenly turn into Tom Cruise or something?"

Jim did his excellent impression of a gold fish, then said, "My God. I'm ... we're ... you and I, you know?"

"This is utterly amazing, Jim. I actually know what you were not saying very well. You said we're a mixed marriage." Blair just managed to contain his smirk.

"Exactly! Who'd a thunk?"

"Jim, you slay me. It's not like either one of us is exactly practising our religions, capiche?"

"Maybe not, but you said Karen was definitely a practising Christian and I would expect that she would want--"

"She would, and she would want Jake to experience as much as possible. She once said that it was her job to expose him to all that this world offered, then to stand back and let him experience and thus choose.

"Now that's our job. We'll expose him to everything we can, give him bits of his heritage and family, then ours. That includes his Christian background, and yours, plus my Jewish heritage. In the end, he'll embrace what he chooses."

"So Christmas is going to be a hodge-podge--"

"A veritable cornucopia--"

"A plethora--"

"A smorgasborg of traditions. And let's not forget Kwanza," Blair added. "We've been invited to join Cherry's folks for their celebration, remember?"

"Right."

The light went green and Jim moved with the traffic, but it was clear that he was still musing on what the month of December was going to mean for the Ellison-Sandburg-Porter household.

"Oh, and Jim?"

"I hate it when you say my name like that. It means you're about to say something I won't like."

"Don't be silly. I was just going to let you know that tomorrow, according to tradition, we decorate the building for Christmas. And I'm thinking everyone will be decorating inside too, and, well ... Jake, you know?"

"You're thinking that we decorate the apartment, but I'm thinking we decorate with?"

Blair shrugged helplessly.

"Aw, Blair, does this mean we have to go shopping?"

"We don't have anything, Jim. Nothing left. Not that we exactly had much to begin with, but what we did have is gone."

They were less than ten minutes from home when Jim suddenly made a right at Fifth instead of a left.

"Uh, Jim?"

"Dad's. We're going to Dad's. There are some things that we, that -- Mom -- had, that we used to put up. But not for years. Some of it, well some of it, I loved. Do you mind if we stop by? I have a key."

The sudden expression of tenderness was Blair's answer.


Jim got Blair settled on the couch with a glass of ice water, then picked up the phone to call his father in London. As he dialed, he wondered if he were doing the right thing? He was about to chicken out by hanging up, but the phone at the other end of the world was picked up and a voice with a decidedly British accent answered.

<Yes?>

"I'm calling for William Ellison. This is his son, James."

<Just one moment, please.>

A few seconds later, his father came on. <Jim? Is everything all right? Is Mr. Sand--is-- Blair all right?>

"He's fine, Dad. Look, I have a favor to ask. It's about ... Christmas ... and the items of Mom's--"

<Take whatever you wish, Jimmy. And speaking of Christmas, our plans here have changed a bit. We'll be home after all. I was hoping, maybe, on Christmas day, you and Blair and Jake, well-->

Jim shot a glance at his partner, who raised an eyebrow in question. "Uh, Dad, hang on a moment." He cupped his hand over the receiver and said quietly, "They'll be home for Christmas after all, Chief. He'd like us to come over on Christmas day. What do you think?"

"Why not? What time?"

Jim took his hand away and said, "What time, Dad?"

<Well, I know you'll want the morning so how about afternoon? For an early Christmas dinner?>

Jim repeated the idea to Blair, who said, "Well, there's my mom, and we need to be home in time to light--"

Jim nodded his understanding, then said to his father, "No problem, Dad. We'd need to be home by sunset, though. And would you mind if Blair's mother, Naomi, joined us?"

<Not at all, Jimmy, not at all. A real family Christmas, maybe the start of something new?>

Jim closed his eyes, but at an arm winding around his waist, he opened them and found himself gazing down into Blair's smiling face. Feeling incredibly good, he said, "Yeah, Dad, yeah. But maybe you should keep--"

<No, Jimmy, you look, take what you love and Sally and I will start some traditions of our own>

"Thanks, Dad. What about Steven?"

<Jimmy, take whatever you want, don't
worry>

"All right. And thanks, Dad. So when do you actually come home now?"

<We'll all be back by the twentieth and ... I miss you, son. How's Jake?>

"He's fine, Dad. His first Thanksgiving was great. He ruled the roost."

<I'm sorry to have missed it. I'd like to have seen him finish off that turkey leg, though>

Jim chuckled at the vision of Jake lifting the huge leg and biting into it. The dreamy expression that had suffused his face while chewing , followed by his exclamation and proclamation of the *yummy goodnessness* of the turkey, broadened Jim's smile.

"Dad, I only wish we could have video taped it."

<Me too. We'll see you before the twenty-fifth, won't we?>

"Of course. Maybe dinner?"

<I'd like that, son>

"All right then. Give us a call when you get in and we'll set it up. Give my best to Steven."

<Will do and give my -- grandson -- a hug and kiss for me>

Jim's eyes drifted closed again, then opened as he said, "I will, Dad. Bye."

<Bye, son>

Jim turned off the phone but didn't move since Blair was still wound around him. He simply put both his arms around his partner, rested his head on Blair's and closed his eyes. His father never ceased to amaze him.


Jim gazed into one of the decoration storage boxes and smiled. "This was one of my favorite pieces. Mom would clean it up and set it on the mantle, letter by letter. It was her mother's."

Jim lifted each letter out of the box, blew off some long gathered dust, then handed each piece, one by one, to Blair.
Looking closely at each hand-blown glass letter, that when put together would spell 'NOEL', Blair whistled in appreciation. The 'N' was delicately wrapped by glass holly leaves, the 'O' was Santa's cheery face, the 'E' had small elves draped over the top, and the 'L' was trimmed like a Christmas tree that glittered brightly even in the lengthening afternoon shadows of William Ellison's living room.

"This is beautiful work, Jim. Truly. It would look perfect over the fireplace."

Jim nodded and said in a wistful voice, "I used to get lost in the L."

Gawking, Blair asked, "Do you mean to tell me you zoned on these?"

"I guess that's what I'd have to call it, Chief."

"Well, I'll be damned. How did you get out of the zone back then?"

"Just like you once told me, Chief. As a child I must have had an innate ability to bring myself out."

Jim took another item out of the box and carefully unwrapped it, disclosing a large, hand carved Santa. But no red coat adorned it. Its coat was green and twigs were entwined in the white fur that trimmed both his jacket and hood. The nature Santa carried a burlap bag over his shoulder and perched on his arm was a blue jay. On the snow-covered ground at his feet stood two bright red cardinals.

"We have to take that one, Jim. It's wonderful and Jake will love it," Blair said excitedly.

Smiling, Jim agreed. "Yeah, Steven and I both loved this Santa better than the red-coated ones we'd see in the stores."
They continued unwrapping and soon between the two of them, they'd chosen several tree ornaments, including two with pictures of an eight year old Jim and a five year old Steven; two lovely wreaths; the glass NOEL set; the wooden Santa; and finally, a lovely Christmas hurricane lamp that fitted neatly into a pinecone wreath, both of which had held up remarkably well. They also had a strand of the old-fashioned liquid Christmas lights that nearly gave Blair apoplexy when he spotted them.

"Jim, do you have any idea what these are worth today? Are you sure you--"

"I'm sure, Chief. They'd look good
around the window in the dining room, wouldn't they?"

"God, yes. But why not the window beside the front door?"

"Well, I'm thinking the Menorah should go in front of that and we wouldn't want anything to detract, right?"

"I love you, man."


By the time they arrived home, having decided that more shopping was necessary, but could wait until Blair felt stronger, it was dinner time. Upon entering the apartment, both men were attacked when a small ball of energy bounded into them. As Jake wrapped his arms around both sets of legs, Jim said with a grin, "Blair, I think we have a monster attached to us. We need a ghostbuster or monster detective to save us."

"Well, you have been called a monster of a detective, so I nominate you."

"That was low, Chief. Very low."

"not a monster," a small voice piped up. "just jake. and you be very
late!"

Concerned glances were exchanged as Naomi came out of the kitchen and gave them a small nod confirming that Jake had been very worried. Quick to reassure him, Blair said, "Jake, everything is fine. I'm fine. Did we worry you?"

In answer, Jake buried his head against Blair's thigh. Jim immediately put the box of decorations on the side table and picked him up. "I'm sorry, Hoss. We should have called, shouldn't we?"

Jake nodded, his lower lip making itself known. "you sure daddy is okay?"

"Why don't you ask me, welp?"

Blond curls bounced as Jake turned and looked accusingly at his father. "are you sure you're okay?"

"Right as rain, Jake. And Monday, I get to start exercising my arm and I choose you to help me."

"i get to help?" Jake asked, his body starting to bounce in Jim's arms.

"Yep, you sure do. You up for it, Hoss?" "i am. i'll help you goooood, daddy!'

"Thank you, and we're sorry about not calling."

"you just need to not do it 'gain,
'kay?"

"Deal."

"you promuse?"

"Promise," Blair assured.

Jake turned to Jim who immediaetly nodded and added his own, "Promise, Jake."

"'kay. and i have a new friend, i met him at the park before it started raining and his name is corky and he and me and cherry played and we chased each other and guess where corky lives?"

"Where?" both men said, simultaneously.

"'cross the street! remember the house where i got gummi worms? that's corky's house and that was corky's daddy, but corky was sick and didn't get to come out for halloweeeeny, but he's all bedder now and we're playing tomorrow too, 'kay?"

"Would that be before or after we decorate the courtyard for Christmas, Jake?" Blair asked innocently.

Jake, who was wiggling to get down, froze. "huh?"

"Tomorrow, according to John, is the day we all decorate the building for Christmas. Maybe Corky can come over and help?"

Jake's eyes got impossibly wide as he said in wonder, "krismas? we decorate for krismas, daddy?"

"We sure do. Now how 'bout we get settled, have our dinner, and we'll discuss tomorrow and decorating? Sound like a plan?"

"i'm down with that!"


"Three boxes?"

"Three boxes. Three big boxes."

"I noticed the 'big' part, John." Jim rolled up the sleeves of his blue denim shirt and added, "Well, let's get them out of here and get started."

The two men bent at the knees, and together, lifted the first large box.
Walking crab-like, they headed out into the courtyard.

Jake was sitting by the pond, an open storybook in his lap, while Blair occupied one of the courtyard chairs.

As the box was set down, Blair's eyes flew open and he smiled. "Gee guys, sorry I can't be of much help in moving the decorations out here. Real sorry."

The small child-like snort from the grass was immediately echoed by two grown-up snorts.

Innocence personified, Blair asked, shocked, "What? You guys don't believe how sorry I am? Gee whiz. I'm hurt. Terribly hurt and offended."

"Sandburg, bite me."

"Jim, really. Not in public," Blair teased.

"Um, Jake? How's the pond water?" Jim asked, ignoring Blair's remark.

The small boy lifted his head from his picture book and trailed a finger in the pond. "purrrr-fect, jimmy."

"You don't say? Well, I'm thinking daddy looks hot. What do you think, Jake?"

Grinning broadly, Jake nodded excitedly and immediately flipped his hand in the water with just enough strength to effectively create a spray that reached Sandburg.

Wiping his face, Blair scolded lightly, "Jake, my main man, Hoss, that was not nice."

"yes it was. jimmy said you were hot."

The man in question chuckled and thumping John on the arm, said, "Let's go. We have two more boxes to bring out."

As they headed back to the storage room, they grinned as Blair's lecturing followed them. At the door of the storage closet, Jim paused to listen--

"...so when Jim gets back, you really need to cool him off because it would only be fair, right?"

"right. fair is fair."

"Right."

"Jim, what?" John asked when Jim failed to move inside.

"Blair has given up the lecture and is now encouraging Jake to cool us down when we return."

"You could hear that? From here?"

Jim stammered a bit, but then, as he rushed into the store room, said, "Uh, well, ye-ah. I mean, can't you?"

John scratched his head, then shrugged. "I guess I wasn't listening. Okay, this box next?"

"Sounds good to me."


By eleven, Doyle Briggs from apartment 6, Emmy and Kyle Lauter from apartment 3, Maxine and Stu Carstairs from apartment 2 and the prickly Mr. Pritchard from apartment 8 were all working diligently at decorating the Anjasmayo.

Jim and John Holder were hanging the lights in the courtyard, the outside trim having already been completed. The white branch reindeer family were now set up around the pond and Maxine had her husband threading small white Christmas lights through the wood that formed the deer.

In the corner of the courtyard, opposite the pond, Doye, Emmy and Kyle, with the appropriate aid from Jake, were hanging the outdoor ornaments on the Anjasmayo Christmas tree. The large shade tree that took center stage in the courtyard had been wrapped with foil and red ribbon, as had the tree in front of the building. In the lobby, Blair and Naomi, who had joined them half way through the decoration process, were setting up the wooden cut-out elves.

According to John, Karen's husband had made the elves when their daughter was about Jake's age. When people walked into the lobby, the elves would appear to be trying to sneak in. A green ladder was rested against the courtyard gate and two elves, one holding the ladder, the other climbing it, were set up, followed by an elf on the mailbox who was trying to stuff a present into one of the slots. Another elf sat on the front gate, one finger to his lips as he winked at anyone who entered.

Everyone in the Anjasmayo decorated windows that faced the courtyard, as well as their front doors, and all had lights trimming said windows. The weekend after Thanksgiving was traditionally the time chosen for everyone to decorate their own places and the building.

At eleven-thirty, a woman in her late forties arrived towing a small redheaded boy of about Jake's age. When Jake, who was setting pretend presents under the tree, spotted them, his face lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.

"corky!"

He rushed to the other boy's side and immediately took his arm to begin to show him everything. Jim wiped his hands on his already dirty jeans and with a nod from Blair, both men headed over to the woman.

Smiling, the slightly harrried-looking strawberry blonde held out her hand and said, "Hi, I'm Cordelia Patterson, Cordy to friends. You must be--"

Blair took the offered hand and finished for her. "Blair Sandburg and this is my life-partner, Jim Ellison. Jake told us all about you and Corky. I'm glad he could join us today."

Cordy Patterson shook hands with Jim and if she seemed bothered or concerned about the "life-partners" remark, she didn't show it. Instead, she looked over at the two boys as they raced around the grass, oohing and aahing at everything, and said, "I'm thrilled that Corky and Jake met yesterday. The neighborhood is full of children, but not many are Corky's age.

"My husband and I, well, we had Corky late. We have two other children; Ellen, who's away at college, and Bobby, who's
thirteen. You can imagine how hard it is for Corky. He doesn't usually have anyone to play with."

Blair nodded sympathetically. "I understand, Mrs. Patt--"

"Cordy, please."

Smiling, Blair said, "Cordy. And again, it's a pleasure having him today."

"I'm so glad you called last night. What time should I pick him up?"

"Well, to be honest, Jake has been making sounds about wanting Corky to spend the night. Do you have any objections?"

"Did I get Corky's story right? You're both detectives?" At Jim and Blair's nod, she grinned and said, "Then not at all. My husband and I are visiting some friends later tonight so why don't I drop off his stuff then? About six? That will give us some time to get to know one another?"

"Sounds like a plan," Jim responded.

"All right then, we'll see you at six." She turned and spotting her son, said, "Corky? I'm leaving now. How about a kiss?"

The small boy ran happily to his mother, who scooped him up and planted a kiss on his cheek. "You be good and it looks like you get to spend the night with Jake, okay?"

"yippee!"

Smiling, she said, "Yeah, yippee. But no trouble, okay? You behave and do what Jake's parents tell you to do."

"i will, mommy, prom-his."

"Okay. Daddy and I will bring your jammies later. Have fun, honey."

She let him down and without a backward glance, he scampered off to join Jake. A few seconds later, two loud "yippees" were heard. Chuckling, Blair said, "I think Corky just gave Jake the news."

Laughing, Cordy agreed and a few minutes later, after a short tour, she took her leave. Jim and Blair remained standing out front as the woman jogged back across the street. When she disappeared up the walkway, they turned and headed back inside. As they entered the lobby, Jim shook his head and said, "We're having our first sleep-over, Chief."

"No, Jim, we had that a few weeks ago."

Jim stopped to gaze down at his partner. "Sandburg, do you ever think of anything but sex?"

Blair pretended to give the question great thought, then said, "Um - no. Not really. After all, I have a rep to protect."

"Uh-huh." Jim was about to ask something else, but Jake and Corky ran up and with Corky taking Jim's hand and Jake taking Blair's, the two men were led back into the WinterWonderland.


"So you're telling me there will be three four-year olds for dinner?"

"Um - yes. Think you can handle it, Jim?"

"Naomi will be here, right?"

Blair snorted and answered, "'Fraid not, Jim. She's having dinner with an old friend who arrived this morning, remember? Valerie Fernandez?"

"Oh. Yeah. Damn."

Blair stepped over to the bed where Jim was sat, still damp from his shower. He pushed the older man's legs apart. "Poor baby. But I think between us, we can handle Jake, Cherry and Corky, don't you?"

In answer, Jim rolled his eyes, then said, "Who's idea was it to have Cherry too?"

"That would be Jake, naturally. They are, after all and as of yesterday, the Three Musketeers."

"Yeah, well, we're both gonna have headaches, trust me."

Blair turned, stepped over to the door, closed it, locked it, then returned to his place between Jim's legs. He wedged himself in tighter, letting his right leg push against Jim's crotch.

"Well, you are a sentinel. You could turn it all down, and if we relaxed, it wouldn't be so bad later, especially since ... Naomi's here now."

Gazing up at his love, Jim cocked his head as if in thought. "We-ell, that could work. What did you have in mind for relaxing?"

"Um, how 'bout this--"

Blair went down on his knees, glanced u, smiled, then slowly lowered the zipper on the jeans Jim had just put on.

"This could work," Jim agreed, as Blair lovingly handled his already responding dick. "But what about you, Chief?"

"Well," the younger man said, just before taking Jim into his mouth, "you could try the same proven technique--"

"I ... could ... do ... that--"


Blair lay on his back, Jim sprawled across him, his head resting on Blair's right shoulder. Jim's eyes were closed, but he wasn't asleep. His right hand was stroking up and down Blair's side while he made small satisfied sounds deep in his throat.

"Jim?" Blair tilted his head so that he could see the man's face. At his mumbled, "umm?", Blair said, "Are you aware that you're --like-- purring?"

"Got objections?"

"Hey, me? No way, man. But sometimes, you take the whole 'the jaguar is my spirit animal' a bit too far, you know?"
Jim petted Blair's furred chest and said, "Riiight, Wolfman. If I'm not mistaken, did I or did I not have to muzzle you a few minutes ago in order to keep you from howling?"

"I do not howl."

"Says you. And hadn't we better get up and join your mother? We still have an apartment to decorate."

"So move, already."

"I'm moving, I'm moving," Jim said as he wiggled in closer.

"Uh, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"Never mind."


They walked slowly down the hall, both surprised that all was silent in their world. Worried at the strange silence,
they peeked inside Jake's room. To their amazement, they found all three children gathered around Jake's playtable playing quietly.

Frowning, Blair glanced back and up at Jim, who shrugged his surprise. Voice low, Blair said, "Does this look right to you, Jim?"

"How the hell should I know, Sandburg?" Jim hissed back.

"They look happy, don't they?"

"Well, yeah."

"Okay then. let's go."

Closing the door, they backed away and headed out into the living room.


"You two hungry? I have a nice chicken salad for you and some ice tea."

"Mom, that sounds great. And yeah, I'm starved."

"I bet you are, Chief. All that work this morning, decorating, and all."

"Hey," Blair grumbled, "I was doing the hard part. I was supervising."

Jim, peering over Naomi's shoulder, snagged a cherry tomato out of the salad bowl. After popping it into his mouth and chewing it down, he said, "I think you planned this whole thing, Sandburg. You've taken partial ducking to a whole new level."

"Yeah, I am good."

"Guys? Sit down, shut up and eat."

"You heard your mother, Chief. Sit down."

"Jim, so help me--"

"Boys? Do you want dessert?"

Both men scrambled to their seats.


Corky colored the clown purple and with eyes perusing more crayons, he asked,
"what are you gonna ask santy for, jakey?"

"whadya mean?" Jake asked, not looking up from his coloring.

"you write santa a letter and you tell him what you want for christmas, silly," Cherry answered.

Jake took his eyes from his coloring book and frowned. "i do?"

Cherry nodded, her short curls bobbing. "a 'course. everyone knows that, right cork?"

"right. i'm gonna ask for a -- tel -- tela -- telascoop."

"why?" Jake asked, naturally curious.
"and what's a -- telascoop?"

"you look at stars - at night. you can see everything up close."

"oh."

Corky smiled shyly at his new friend, then asked again, "so what are you gonna ask for?"

"i don't know. and how do i write the letter?"

"your daddy will help. you tell him and he can write it for you. see?"

"your daddy does your letter, cherry?"

"yep, and my mommy."

"cork?"

"yep, my mommy. daddy says he doesn't have time. he works very hard."

"when do we do this? how much time does santy need?"

"well," Corky scratched his head, "my sister, says i'd better write it soon, or santy will skip our house!"

"no, no, silly," Cherry interjected. "you can write your letter on christmas eve and santa will still get your presents to you by christmas morning. he's magikal."

"so there's no hurry? i can think about it and write my letter later?"

"sure you can. you too, corky!"

Corky looked from one to the other, then said, 'we could write our letters together. maybe your daddy would help us, jakey?"

Cherry put down her crayon and tapped her chin before finally saying, "that's a good thing, corky. we could do that, right jakey?"

"my daddy and jimmy will help us, and my nomi too. should we do it tonight?"

"well," Cherry said, officiously, "i think we can wait til tomorrow. tomorrow is sunday and my mommy and daddy always feel better on sunday."

Jake nodded as he said, "'kay, tomorrow it is. and - who is santy?"

Corky looked at Cherry and Cherry looked at Corky, then both looked at Jake. Who stared right back at them.

"you don't know santy claws?" Corky finally asked.

"no, well, kinda - from today. i know he has rudolph and other reindeer, johnny told me that, and he's gonna leave pressies under my tree, but who is he?"

Corky, even after only one day, knew to leave the explanations to cherry. He wisely shut up and looked expectantly at her.

Cherry bit her lower lip and said, "santy is a close friend of jesus and for jesus' birthday - he brings you presents. he lives in the north pole and he spends alllllll year making toys, just for us."

Corky, seeing Jake's puzzled face, said helpfully, "you know who jesus is?"

"a' course. i went to church with my gammy and jesus loves me and gammy is with him now."

"yep. and that's why we get pressies on his birthday," Cherry added.

"so christmas is really a birthday party?"

Corky and Cherry exchanged looks, then nodded. "very good, jakey," Cherry approved.

"do i get to give my daddy, jimmy and my nomi a birthday pressie?"

"do you have an - allow-ance?" Cherry asked seriously.

"what's an... allow - ance?"

"your daddy and jimmy give you money for cleaning your room and - and - other things. i get a whole dollar and," Cherry held up two fingers, "two quarters."

"i get a dollar and if i help mommy bring in the growceries, i get more. bobby always goes indivisdible when mommy gets home."

That was all Jake needed to hear. He got up and took off, eager to find out more about this thing called an allowance. He tore down the hall, through the living room and finally into the dining room where his fathers sat. The table was full of decorations and spotting them, Jake skidded to a stop, eyes bulging.

Jim, seeing his son's shock, said with a grin, "Hey, Jake, my man. Where's your company?"

Jake could only blink and point.

Pushing his chair back, Blair stood, walked to his son and squatted down. "What's up, Hoss?"

"those, daddy - those!"

"You like our decorations?"

"our decorashuns?"

"Yes, our decorations. Of course, this isn't all of them, but it's a start."

Jake walked past his father and stood at the end of the table, fingers on the edge as he peered over. "wow," he breathed out.

Blair lifted him up, sat down, and settled him on his lap. Slowly Jake reached out and fingered the tall wooden statue of Santa Claus. One finger trailed down the coat, then up to the cheery face, then lovingly over the beard. Corky and Cherry joined them and Jim quickly got them settled, Corky on Naomi's lap and Cherry on Jim's. All three four-year olds couldn't keep their eyes from the wooden Santa.

"not like the one we have, jakey. why is this santy in green?" Cherry asked.

"yep! mine is wearing his red coat and white fur and black belt. with a biiiiiig gold buckle. and shiny boots. that's santy."

Jake's fascination was rapidly dimming in the face of Cherry's and Corky's expertise. Slowly he dropped his hand away and sat back against Blair, the joy slipping away.

Blair, noticing his son's withdrawal, reached for the statue. "Corky, do you have a best suit?" he asked.

Grinning proudly, Corky nodded and said enthusiastically, "you betcha! i wear it on sunday and to granpa's."

"Cherry, what about you?"

"me too. my best dress is pink and has reeeeeal lace."

"Well there you go. At Christmas, on Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus takes down Mr. Claus' best suit and it's red velvet, very thick and warm, with a special lining that protects Santa from the cold of the world. It's trimmed in white puffy clouds that look just like fur because Santa would never use real fur.

"Anyway, Mrs. Claus polishes up his boots, the good ones, with the gold buckles and the matching belt--"

"like the belt and boots on our Santa," Corky interjected happily.

"Exactly, Cork. So now Santa is ready for Christmas Eve. But this Santa is wearing his everyday clothes, the clothes he wears while finding things to make your toys with, and while actually making the toys with the elves. See, look at his bag," Blair pointed at the burlap sack, "he's got loads of things in there and he and his elves will make thousands of toys for all the children."

"all the children who are good, like me, and jake and corky, right, bwair?"

"Right, Cherry."

"why doesn't he just go to toys r us, like my daddy does?" Corky asked, bewildered.

Blair made a little sound with his lips and Jim and Naomi hid their grins. This was getting good.

"Yes, well, Santa knows that when you make something, from the heart, it's more valuable to the person receiving. He takes great pride in his craftmanship and spends all year creating the perfect toys for you. Besides, he hates standing in line, you know?"

"oh, me too, me too. i always ride in the cart, but lines are toooooo looooong," Cherry said.

"That's exactly how Santa feels, Cherry."

While Blair talked, Jake slowly reached out and continued his stroking of the wooden Santa. Corky, not to be left out, leaned forward in Naomi's lap and did the same, his eyes wide with appreciation.

Cherry, ever the practical, asked, "are you gonna get a chrismus best santy? you don't have to, because this santy is bee-u-tiful, but still, you should."

"Well," Jim answered, "I think we most definitely will get a dressed up Santa, Cherry. Maybe tomorrow you can help us pick one out?"

"i'm a good picker-outer but jakey is the best." Cherry was nothing if not diplomatic about her future husband.

"can we all go pick out a dressed up santy, jimmy?"

"Sure we can, Jake."

Corky bent his head and mumbled, "i can't. i gotta go to granpa's on sunday, after church." Then his head snapped up and he asked hopefully, "but i can come see it later, can't i?"

"a'course, silly." Jake grinned at his new best friend.

While Jim explained all the other decorations to Cherry and Corky, Jake tilted back his head and asked, "can i
have an... al-ow-wance? so i can buy pressies?"

Blair blinked at his son and sighed. He'd really hoped to have this allowance talk when Jake was closer to ten. "Tell you what," he finally said, "you, me and Jimmy will talk about it later, okay?"

"'kay. and later, will," he dropped his voice very low, "you tell me 'bout santy and chrissymas?"

Blair was momentarily stunned as it hit him that Jake had never had a Christmas with Karen. In addition, it was doubtful that he had any meaningful memories about Christmas from his time with his mother. Brushing the back of his hand over Jake's cheek, he lowered his head and whispered in Jake's ear, "Of course, Jake. Jimmy and I will tell you all about it, and something called Chanukah, tomorrow night as your bedtime story, okay?"

"promuse?"

"Promise."

"can we all decorate now?"

"You betcha."


Dinner was over and dessert had been slurped and enjoyed by all three children and the three adults as well. The house was partially decorated and three children were snug in their beds, (Jake in his, Corky in his sleeping bag on the floor and Cherry on the Aero bed) dreaming of Santa, toys and huge allowances. Naomi had left, with Jim promising not to get sidetracked on Sunday so that the closet at the loft could be finished.

Now Jim sat on the couch in front of a blazing fire, Blair between his legs, resting against his chest. Their fingers were entwined and both men had their eyes closed. Jim broke the gentle silence.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Without opening his eyes, Blair smiled and said, "For you, they're free. And I was just thinking that we have to explain Christmas to Jake tomorrow. I was prepared to explain Chanukah, but just assumed--"

"That he knew about Christmas?"

"Well, yeah."

"He seems to have gathered a great deal from Cherry and Corky and he knows Christmas is about Jesus and his birthday. You heard Cherry's version of the whole manger thing tonight."

"Yeah, that was cute. And she was remarkably accurate. But I'm really talking about explaining Santa and all the symbols of the season."

Jim slipped the hand not currently in Blair's, under the younger man's shirt. As he stroked the soft chest hair, he said, "I really loved your whole *best suit* explanation. I learn something new everyday, Chief."

"I thought I did pretty good too, considering it was off the cuff. I was worried we couldn't make it right, you know?"

"I know, Chief, I know. You done good. Can't wait til tomorrow night."

"You are so evil."

Chuckling, Jim agreed.


Making breakfast for three small children nearly proved to be Jim's undoing. Corky wanted oatmeal and cinnamon toast, Cherry wanted Fruit Loops and bacon, and Jake wanted French toast.

Scratching the back of his head as he tried to figure the logistics of all the requests, Jim was relieved to hear Blair say, "You know, personally, I think Sunday's were made for Mickey Mouse Pancakes. Red Mickey Mouse pancakes."

Three sets of eyes went round as three small heart-shaped mouths did the same. Corky looked at Jake, who looked at Cherry, who looked at Corky, then they reversed it. Finally, Jake, assuming the role of spokesperson, said, "i think red mickey mouse pancakes would be the bestest!"

All three children high-fived each other as Jim looked aghast at his mate, who quickly rose from his spot next to Jake. Slapping Jim on the back, he said confidently, "Have no fear, I'm here to guide you. Now you get out the red food coloring and the other ingredients and let's get this chow line going."


"they're - red. mickey's ears are red," Corky said in wonder, just before giggling.

"they taste goooood too!" Jake added just before shoveling another forkful into his mouth.

"chrismassy mickey mouse pancakes! i love it here, jakey!" Cherry said happily.

Grinning, Blair glanced over at Jim and said softly, "You're a hit, man."

Jim beamed. He was getting damn good at this whole father thing.


Sunday passed quietly for Blair, once Jim left with their horde. The plan was to drop Corky and Cherry, then with Jake in tow, he'd finish the closet for Naomi. The end result was that Blair was enjoying some much needed peace and quiet.

With soft music in the background, he spent the day alternating between napping, reading, and thinking about how best to explain Santa and Chanukah.

At five, his nap was interrupted by the joyous arrival of his family. It seemed they'd stopped off at the mall and finished the necessary shopping that would complete their holiday decorating.
Jim's and Jake's arms were full as they entered the apartment, bringing the cold and wind with them. Jake was literally bouncing.

"daddy, daddy, wait til you see! we got gar... gar... stuff for the mantul and we got missytoe, and green and red towels and wash cloths and i got a pair of santy socks and we got tree lights and stockings, daddy! jimmy says we hang them up, on the mantul, and santy puts goodies in them! we got one for me, and mine is white, with a fox on it, with a red hat like santy wears? and your's is red, with a wolfie on it, jimmy had the nice man put it on, with my foxy and his jaggywar, and his is green and the nice man wrote our names on them, daddy and we got one for nomi too and it has a chrismassy swan on it and i picked that out and when do we get the tree, daddy? uh? uh? and jimmy picked out--"

Holding up his right hand in surrender, Blair said, laughing, "Whoa, Hoss, slow down and let's take a look at everything, okay? Why don't you two put it all here on the table?"

Jake hurried forward, followed by a slightly more sedate Jim Ellison. The packages were set down, jackets were removed and as Jake began to pull his goodies out, Blair noticed the large white box.

"I see we're having pizza tonight?"

Jim gave Blair his Jake won and we lost look as he said, "Yeah and while you and the Jakemeister pour over everything, I'll go get the paper plates and drinks. Tonight, we eat out here by the fire and decide where to put everything."

Blair wasn't sure who was more childlike at that moment, Jim or Jake.


The pizza was gone, the goodies explained and exclaimed over, Jake was bathed, and all the new decorations were in place. As Blair gazed about him, he marveled at the transformation. Their home looked - good. Warm, inviting and very holiday-ish. He could hear Jim and Jake laughing in Jake's bedroom as Jim tried to convince Jake to wear his new santa socks, but Jake was explaining, in loud tones, that "no, must save for chrismussy night".

Smiling, Blair got up and headed into his bedroom. On the floor of the closet sat a trunk that had been in more countries than the most avid armchair traveler. With some effort and not a little discomfort, Blair dragged it out, got it open, and after moving stuff around, found what he needed. With satisfaction, he closed the trunk and with his foot, shoved it back, closed the closet and headed into the living room.

Blair had just placed the item on the table when Jim joined him, leading a now pajama clad Jake by the hand. Jake slipped away from Jim and strode up to Blair and taking his hand, said, "'kay, now time to 'splain." With that, he crawled into Blair's lap, settled in and waited expectantly.

"Yes, well. You seem to have the idea about Christmas and it's being Jesus' birthday, right?"

"yup! he were born in a manger and my gammy tol me that and i learnt it in sunday school. but i never knew about pressies and i think we should give him pressies, like i got for my birfday, but i can handle it this way."

"Glad to hear it, Hoss. And by the way, you can give him a present. You can give him a promise about yourself," Jim offered, clearly repeating something he'd been told when he was growing up.

"a ... promuse?"

"Sure. Like, maybe for his birthday you promise, as your gift, to eat more green vegetables."

"oh." Jake mulled that over, then asked, "when should i make this promuse?"

"Well, Christmas Eve would be good. The eve of his birth."

"so i don't have to eat more green vegetables til then, do i?"

Blair gave Jake a little tickle and a kiss as Jim said, "Well, you could practise, maybe."

"pra-ctuse?"

"Yeah, maybe with some celery tomorrow?" "oh. i could do that - if the celery had - peanutty butter on it."

Jim held back his chuckle as he said with the utmost seriousness, "Yes, I think that could be arranged."

"'kay. so now - santy claws."

"Blair, your turn."

"Right. Santa Claus. Okay. First off, you need to know that Santa has many names throughout the world, like Saint Nicholas, which is the most common. He was a generous man known for taking care of the poor and bringing toys to the children of his village--"

"why do we call him santy claws then?"

"Well, here in America, many immigrants from Holland brought with them their love of Sinter Klass, their name for him, and shared this Saint with others. Eventually, that became Santa Claus. But the thing to remember about Santa is that he believed in caring for the less fortunate. He rescued sailors, brought gifts to families who had nothing, and tried to bring love and happiness to children who had little. You could say he embodied the spirit of giving."

"cherry says he comes in a slay. and someone named ... rud--rud--"

"Rudolph."

"rudollf, leads him. who's rudollf?"

"Okay, see, Santa lived in a time before cars and in the winter, they traveled by something called a sleigh."

Blair reached over and picked up the snow globe that Jim had purchased. Holding it up for Jake to see, he said,
"This is a sleigh, Jake. See? There's Santa and he rides in this sleigh and those are reindeer. And the one at the front, with the red nose? That's Rudolph, the rednosed reindeer."

"You know, Chief, I think you should sing about Rudolph, to Jake. Explain it that way."

Jim gave a fleeting thought to ducking, based on the dagger glare being thrown his way, but he stuck out his chin, grinned, and waited.

"yes, yes! sing to me!"

"Right. Okay, here goes. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

Blair started to sing and Jim watched as Jake's face lit up. On the second chorus, Blair slowed down and let Jake follow him.

"....then one foggy Christmas Eve--"

"then one foggy -- chrismus eve--"

"Santa came to say--"

"santy came to say--"

"Rudolph with your nose so bright--"

"rudollf with ... your nose so bright--"

"Won't you guide my sled tonight?"

"won't you guide ... my sled ... tonight--"

"Then how the other reindeer--"

"then how the other rainydaydeer--"

"Shouted out in jubilee--"

"shouted out in--" Jake faltered and Blair sang again, "Jubilee--"

"in jubaleeee!"

"Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!"

"rudollf the red nosed reindeer, you'll go down in his-store-eeeee!"

Jake clapped, throwing his head back and giggling. He had a new hero - Rudolph.

Blair explained Winter Solstice and as he talked Jim started to unwrap the
package Blair had brought from his room.

As Jim unwrapped, Jake's attention immediately strayed. His eyes grew wide as the beautiful item was gradually revealed.

"jimmy?"

"Jake, this is something called a Menorah. It's your daddy's and it's very special. Ask him about it."

Jake tilted his head back and asked, "daddy?"

Blair let Jake scramble down and as the boy stood by the table, his fingers running over the Menorah, Blair took a deep breath and started to explain Chanuakh.


"the mac-a-beeeeees?"

"Yep, the Maccabees."

"an they beat the ... geeks?"

Jim bit down hard on his lower lip since laughing right now would not be a good thing.

"Um," Blair said, his own laughter starting to bubble to the surface, "the Greeks, Jake. G-r-e-e-k-s."

"'kay. then what happened?"

"Well, Jonah Maccabee led the defeat of the Greeks, but when the Maccabees arrived at the Temple of Jerusalem they found only one jar of oil. The Greeks had defil... destroyed the others. But when they lit the one remaining jar, with only enough oil to burn for one day, well, a miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days. So now we give our thanks and praise symbolically, for each of those eight days. We call this celebration Chanukah, or the Festival of the Lights."

"and we light that," Jake pointed at the Menorah, "right?"

"Right. The Menorah. See, it has eight branches, four on each side, and they all must be equal, none taller than another--"

"but daddy, that one is taller."
Jake was pointing at the center branch and Blair nodded. "Yes, it is. That's the shamash. It's not one of the eight and is actually used to light the others."

"'kay. do we light them all at once? can i blow them out?"

"Well, you see, we have this little ceremony, and on the first night of Chanukah, which falls on December twenty-first this year, we will light one candle. Then the next night, two, and so forth, until--"

"the eighth day, when we get to light all of them?"

"You got it, Jake."

"then do i get to blow them out? like my birfday candles?"

"I don't think so. We need to let them burn naturally, and for at least half an hour after sunset."

The boy looked hard at the beautiful brass piece sitting proudly on the coffee table, then asked in awe, "but how did they burn for eight days, daddy?"

"Well, that's the miracle, Hoss. Remember, a miracle is when something happens, something wonderful and yet, it couldn't possibly happen. Like one jar of oil that should only last a day, burning for eight."

"so magik."

"God's magic miracle."

"can i light one, daddy?"

"I think that can be arranged. There's a special ceremony that goes with the lighting, and you must light the candles in a specific order, which I'll teach you. Afterwards, well, one of the ways we celebrate the oil is to have," Blair winked at Jim, then said, "donuts. I'll make them, using a special recipe of my mother's. We'll play games and do special tasks, like wrapping gifts for our friends and each other. And you'll get something I loved when I was your age, namely Chanukah gelt."

Eyes wide, Jake said, "i get gelt?"

"Yep."

Frowning, Jake asked the obvious. "what's gelt?"

Smiling, Blair said, "Let me put it this way; you won't have to worry about an allowance because gelt is money."

Jake pursed his lips, then said, "i get gelt ... an that's money?"

"Yep. Coins."

"but -- but i wanna - urn - it, like cherry and corky."

"Um. Well, Jim," Blair asked, turning his attention to the man beside him. "what do you think?"

"We could use help with taking out the trash, and I know John could use some help with the leaves. I think we can come up with something - equitable."

Jake's head swiveled from one to the other as he asked, "ekitable?"

"That means fair, Jake. Like, say, a dollar for helping Jim or I take out the trash and we'll ask John about the leaves and see what he says he's willing to pay, okay?"

"that's way better than doing my room, cuz i do that anyway - it's my room."

"Good thinking, Jake."

"so when is chanyka over?"

"On the twenty-eighth, which means that even after Christmas is over, you'll still be celebrating Chanukah."

Jake grinned slyly and added, "and getting - gelt."

"You catch on quick, Hoss," Jim said, laughing.

"yup!" Then he looked up at his daddy and asked, "where do we put it, daddy?"

"Well, we'll set up a table by that window, over there, because tradition says that the Menorah should be in a spot where people passing by can see it, and on December twenty-first, we'll rest it on the table. Sound good to you, welp?"

"sounds purrrrfect."

"Glad you agree."

"does cherry and corky have one as good as ours?"

Blair caught Jim's look, and over his son's head, he stuck out his tongue. Taking a deep breath, he plunged in.
"Well, see, Jake, Cherry and Corky aren't Jewish, but I am. So is Naomi. We celebrate Chaunukah. But Naomi is also a Wiccan." Seeing the puzzled expression on his son's face, Blair added, "Jake,
the world is a big place and its full of people, all with their own beliefs and customs. This winter, you get to experience three of them. Then, when you're all grown up, you'll kind of - choose. See?"

"three? i get to have three?"

"Yep, you do. You get to celebrate Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanza. And yes, Cherry celebrates Kwanza. Remember how we talked about that when Cherry's mom invited us to join them in their Kwanza celebration?"

"i member." Jake worried at his lower lip, then said, "so i get chanyka, chrismus, and kwanza, cherry gets chrismus and kwanza, but corky only gets chrismus ... daddy, can he come over for chanyka?"

"We'll be sure to ask his parents, all right?"

"'kay. and jimmy, what are you?"

"Well, my family celebrates Christmas because we're Christian. So you have one daddy who is Jewish and another who is Christian. However, if you want to get technical, we're both a little of everything."

"then i wanna be a liddle of everything too!"

"Well, Jake," Blair affirmed, "this year you will be. Later in the week you can ask Naomi all about being Wiccan, okay?"
"yippee! i be wicked too!"


"Well, that went - okay."

"It went great, Chief. You got me all excited about Chanukah and sharing it with you. You've never really ... in all the years we lived at the loft... I mean... do you know how to do this?"

Laughing, Blair wrapped his arms around his partner and said between chuckles, "Yeah, Jim, I do. As to years past, well, you spent the first holiday with Eileen, remember? The second one was spent with Beverly, and last year with your Dad--"

"Blair, Chanukah is eight days long. I know this because a very smart man told me tonight."

"Yeah, well - you weren't really into - holidays, you didn't decorate, so who was I to--"

"Tell me you're kidding. Just tell me that."

"Well--"

"Tell me it wasn't because of me that you didn't celebrate Chanukah or Passover or--"

"Jim, it wasn't you. Come on, you know me. I really am a little of everything and I can't begin to count all the expeditions where any kind of celebration was impossible. To be honest, this will be my first real Chanukah in several years. At least - a traditional Chanukah. The spirit was always there, though."

"You sure?" Jim asked as he pulled far enough away to study his mate's face.

"I'm sure, you idiot. Did I ever do anything in three years with you to make you think I'd not do something if I wanted to do it?"

"Good point. Here's hoping you're in the mood for some energetic monkey love."

"Why do I think acting like a baboon right now might kill the mood?"

"God, I love you."

"Come my little monkey, let us adjourn to the bedroom."

Jim managed to refrain from making any sounds that could even remotely be construed as ape-like.


"I really hate this, Jim."

"Yes, I know. So you've mentioned - six times - since we woke up."

"Well, I really hate this."

"You know," Jim said as he pulled up the zipper of his slacks, "I'm beginning to think you have no faith in my ability as a detective."

"Jiiiiim," Blair whined pitiously.

"Well, you're making it sound as though one week without you and I'll fall apart."

Feigning shock, Blair said,"You mean you won't?"

Jim stopped dressing, his shirt hanging open as he turned to his partner. "Is this a trap, Chief?"

"I don't know, Jim, is it?" Blair asked, innocence personified.

"I can't win this, can I?"

"I don't know, Jim, can you?"

Resigned, Jim said,"Simon is putting me on desk duty."

Pumping his right arm and lifting his knee, Blair hissed out, "Yesssssss."

"You're disgusting, Sandburg."

"Yep," Blair said proudly. "And Simon is a wise man."


The week of Blair's convalescence went remarkably fast - too fast for one four year old.

Having his father home for one solid week had been pure joy for Jake. They'd gone to the park together, and even with only one good arm, his daddy had managed to push Jake, Corky and Cherry on the swings. He'd made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut out in the shape of dinosaurs, had played endless games of Monopoly with him, and had drawn and colored with him on the floor.

His daddy had taken him to John's, where it had been decided that John would pay Jake three whole dollars each time he helped with the leaves, which with his daddy's help, he'd done on Tuesday and Thursday and he already had six one dollar bills tucked away in his room for Christmassy pressies.

Twice, his daddy took him and they met Jimmy and had lunch and he got to have a chocolate malt and he shared it with Jimmy, who then took him up on his shoulders and he could see the whole wide world. Every night, the courtyard was lit up with white, and red and green lights and it looked like a wonderland. But the most amazing thing that happened while his daddy was home was that the rest of the block started to light up too! More and more houses on the block got mysteriously decorated and every night, more and more houses got all lit up. And his Jimmy said that just before Christmas, they would all go and "see the lights: and Jake could pick the bestest decorated house of all, not counting their own, a'course.

But then - it was Sunday - and his daddy would be going to work the next morning....


"why did my jimmy have to go get my nomi?"

"Her car is in the shop, Jake. And you did want her to join us for dinner tonight, right?"

"yup! but - my jimmy shoulda taken me!"

"Ah, but then, you'd miss these great grilled cheesy samwiches."

"yup!"

"And you wouldn't mind a bit, would you?"

"nope!"

"Scamp."

"yup!"

"These really are special grilled cheese sandwiches. I'm using mozarella."

"mozzyrelly? like pizza?"

"Yep!"

"okay - i'll stay here."

"Uh, Jake? You're already here. And how 'bout some music with our lunch?"

"what kind?"

Blair wiped his hands off and lifting Jake from his booster seat, said, "Well, let's go out and look. Naomi left some great CD's that a friend burned for her - maybe we'll find something good."

"daddy," Jake asked as he trotted after his father, "how can you burn something and still listen to it?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Well, Jake, it's like this...."


"You do realize that if you hadn't picked me up at the garage, that, that -- words fail me."

"That bastard?"

"Dickhead. That dickhead. And don't you dare tell Blair I used that word."

"Mum's the word, Naomi. Get it? Mum's the word?"

"My son did this to you, didn't he?"

Laughing, Jim nodded happily.

"Well, thank God for you. At least now my car wil be fixed and I won't pay through the nose."

Jim pulled the truck into the carport and together they climbed out and headed into the couryard. Half-way to the apartment, Jim cocked his head and held up a hand. Pausing behind him, Naomi watched, concerned, until his face split into the most beautiful smile. With a
finger to his lips, he took Naomi's hand and led her quietly inside.

As they entered, Naomi could hear her son and grandson singing to a CD.
Smiling, she crept along behind Jim as he led them into the dining room. The kitchen door was propped open and by creeping into the corner, both Naomi and Jim could just see the action inside.

The song playing on the stereo was Tainted Love and at the moment, Blair and Jake were dancing around the kitchen in time to the song. Jake's arms were in the air as he waved them in tune to the punctuated beat. In front of him, Blair danced with his knees slightly bent, white sneakers squeaking across the linoleum, hips swaying in time with the beat. Every few seconds, father and son would meet in the middle and cupping their hands, they would jab at each other's palms. Blair would then swivel away, head down, voice raised as he sang, Jake following and mimicking every action and word.

For Jim, it was a moment he would remember for all eternity. His eyes glistened as he watched the two move, both completely unaware and unaffected, simply content to be one with a song.

For Naomi, watching the two dancing and singing together was like history repeating itself.

As they continued to watch, Jake's curls bobbed, Blair's hair flew, and as the song wound down, Jake fell in behind his father as they danced toward the dining
room.

Naomi and Jim quickly backtracked into the living room. Jim plastered himself against the wall to the right, Naomi doing the same on the left. Seconds later, Blair and Jake danced in, Blair pivoted ... and froze.

"Uh-oh."

The last strains of the song faded as Jake bumped into his father.

"daddy?"

"We are no longer alone, Hoss. We are being spied upon."

Jake spun around, and spotting his Jimmy, he yelped with glee and launched himself at the man. Jim caught him and swung him up as Blair walked to the stereo and shut it off.

"Mmm, how long have you two been--"

"Long enough, Chief, long enough," Jim said, grinning broadly. "You've got talent, Sandburg. And Jake, you're a regular Fred Astair."

"i am?"

"You are."

"is that good, jimmy?"

"Very good, Jake."

Naomi put her arm around her son's waist and said, eyes twinkling, "Did Blair ever tell you about a certain Mother-Son Talent Contest?"

"Mom, you are so deadmeat."

"nomi? tell, tell, tell!"

"Well, see, it all started--"

"Oh, no."


"So there we were, wearing our Sonny and Cher outfits, and no, Jim, I was Cher, and we were singing I Got You Babe. When we finished, we received not only a standing ovation, but first place as well."

"Jim, who is this woman? We really shouldn't allow strange people into our home, you know?"

Naomi giggled and Jake favored them with a child-like guffaw. Jim, a wicked gleam in his eye, walked to the stereo, shuffled through some old cassettes and with a "yoohaw!", triumphantly held one up. He waved it around, then slid out the tape and put it in the slot for playing.

Seconds later, the youthful voices of Sonny and Cher filled the room. Jim turned and with a grin, said, "Well?"

Naomi immediately jumped to Blair's side as she cajoled, "Come on, sweetie, let's show 'em how it's done."

"Aw, Mommmm," Blair whined. But his whine was in vain as Jake attached himself to Blair's leg and pleaded, "please, daddy?" Adding insult to injury, Jim did his best Sandburg impression by flashing the famous puppy dog look as he intoned, "Please, please, please?"

Blair rolled his eyes, then said,"All right, all right, we'll do it. But just
this once."

Naomi clapped her hands as Jim stopped the tape and rewound it. With finger poised over the play button, he announced, "And now ladies and gentlemen, it's with great pleasure that Cafe Ellison-Sandburg bring you the talented warblings of Blair and Naomi!"

Blair, with another roll of his eyes, immediately struck his Sonny pose.
Seconds later, he and Naomi were singing and swaying, arms around each other.

*They say we're young and we don't know - We won't find out until we grow - Well I don't know if all that's true 'Cause you got me, and baby I got you....*

At "Babe", both Naomi and Blair were in perfect unison, their voices blending beautifully. They continued with hips swaying and fingers pointing each time one or both sang the word you.

When Blair and Naomi got to the second verse, Jim watched the faces of mother and son and listened carefully to the words.

*...before it's earned, our money's all been spent - I guess that's so, we don't have a lot - but at least I'm sure of all the things we got...*

As they sang, Jim could actually see the Naomi and Blair of the past, just the two of them against the world. For the first time, Jim caught a glimmer of their life together. The next verse drove it home.

*And when I'm sad, you're a clown
And if I get scared, you're always around - Don't let them say your hair's too long 'Cause I don't care, with you I can't go wrong -Then put your little hand in mine There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb, Babe - I got you babe....*

Mother and Son. Naomi and Blair.

Protecting each other, moving through life in their own way, different, loving, but always together no matter what. At that moment, Jim truly loved Naomi Sandburg for the life she'd brought into the world and the boy to man that she'd raised.

They were at the chorus and Jake was now in his father's arms, singing in his high, clear, baby voice. He turned in
Blair's arms and held out his own to Jim. The older man stepped to Blair's side and let Jake wrap one arm around his neck. With Naomi behind Blair, her chin resting on his shoulder, the four of them finished the song.


Jake sat in the tub, his Shamu bobbing along as he made bubble bath castles. Blair sat on the edge and watched, his own hand trailing in the sudsy water. As Jake made Shamu jump out of the water and dive back in with a nice splash, he said, "we be good, huh, daddy?"

"Good?"

"singers. we be very good." Then with head still down and fingers back to forming more castles, he asked quietly, "i always have you and my jimmy?"

Blair added more sudsy bubbles to the growing castle and answered just as quietly, "Always, Jake. Always."


"So, Spiderman jammies or jungle jammies?" Blair turned and held up two pairs, one designed like the Spiderman costume, the other full of jungle animals roaming through greenery.

"spidey tonight!"

"Right. Spiderman it is."

As Blair helped Jake into his pj's, Jake said, "when do i gotta write santy?"

Blair's hands froze in their attempt to put Jake's arms through the sleeves prior to pulling the top over the boy's head. "Write Santa?"

"cherry says i gotta write him and tell him what i want for chrismassy. she said you'd help too. will you, daddy?"

How could he have forgotten the time honored tradition of helping out hapless parents find the right gifts for their children? Smiling, Blair said, "You bet I will. In fact, nowadays, you can email Santa. Would you like to do it that way, or mail an actual letter?"

"eee-mail! eee-mail!"

"All righty then, email it is. Now you give it a lot of thought, and next weekend, we'll compose the message and send it, okay?"

"promuse?"

"Promise."

"'kay!"


"Do you think he's forgotten?"

"Forgotten what, Jim?"

"That tomorrow you go to work."

"Oh. That."

"Yeah, that."

"Nope. I think tomorrow - he's gonna let me have it."

Jim chuckled as the two moved about the apartment, turning out lights and locking up. Blair was shutting and locking the window that overlooked the park when Jim said, "You know, tonight, while you and Naomi were doing your Sonny and Cher impersonation?"

"Jim, so help me--"

"No, no, listen. I just - well, I finally got it, that's all."

"Got what?" Blair was staring at him, a small frown of puzzlement on his face.

"Got you and your mom. How close you two were. How it must have been for you both. How you were a real - team. Sandburgs against the world - sort of. That's all." Then, while Blair's mouth remained open in surprise, Jim added slyly, "And of course, who knew the talent in the Sandburg gene pool?"

"You jerk."

"Yep, that's me. But seriously, I really do understand your mother a little better now. I guess I keep forgetting how young she was when she had you and how it must have been--"

"Not unlike your father, in the seventies, raising two sons in a world where the mother usually--"

"Yeah, yeah," Jim held up his hands in surrender, but he was smiling.

"Come on, let's go to bed. Monday's gonna come awful early and so will Jake's tantrum." Blair started to move toward the hall, but Jim's next words stopped him.

"Wait. You know, we've never danced together and so far today, you've danced with your mom and Jake, so now, I think it's my turn."

Blair did his impression of a neon sign, eyes blinking rapidly.

Grinning from ear to ear, Jim once again moved to the stereo, flipped through his favorite CD's and finally chose one. He dropped it in, hit memory, then skipped to number five, then finally hit repeat. He turned, walked slowly to his partner and held out his arms.

Looking at Jim as if he had two heads, Blair asked suspiciously, "Who leads?"

"I'm pretty sure Sonny always led, Chief."

"Oh. Okay, then." Blair held out his arms and to the strains of Nat King Cole's 'Unforgettable', Jim moved into the safe warm circle. Slowly the two men began to move, all pretense of leading discarded as they simply wrapped their arms around each other's waists.

At first they simply swayed, feet barely moving, bodies close, almost melting into each other, but gradually, as they became more accustomed to the style of the other, they began to move about the living room.

Not even the Sentinel noticed the small figure creep down the hall, lured by the sound of the music.

Spiderman Jake peeked around the corner, and seeing his fathers, he immediately sat down indian style, elbows on knees, cheeks on hands - and with a wide grin, watched - mesmerized.


"no!"

"Jake--"

"no! you both gotta stay!"

Prepared is one thing, but facing the reality of a tantrum was altogether different. At the moment, the tanturm thrower was sitting in the middle of the hall refusing to get up or allow his father to pass. His chin was aiming for the stars.

"Jake, you know both Jim and I have to go to work today. How can we protect the streets if we stay home?"

"you protek me!"

"Yes, we do, Jake. And we protect others. Now Naomi will be here in a few minutes and she's going to be with you all day. She'll take you to the park and remember, she's going to explain the Winter Solstice and all about being a Wiccan."

"no, don't wanna, want you to stay home!" He punctuated his
statement with a firm nod of his head.

Tons of words came to Blair's mind as he stared down at his suddenly stubborn, tantrum-throwing son. Phrases like; "I'm disappointed in you" and "no dinner for you, young man", but he discarded all of them. Instead he hitched his jeans up enough to bend and squatted down in front of the upset boy.

"Jake, we will be home. You have us always. And we'll call you too - three times. But you know Jim and I are policemen and the doctor says I'm ready to go back--"

"but, but, you still havto wear that," Jake said softly, his eyes filling as he pointed to the sling.

"Yes, I do. But only for a few more days. I'm going to be on what's called desk duty until the doctor says I'm completely fit."

"what's desk duty?"

"It means I get to sit at my desk all day and type reports and research and answer phones."

"jimmy too?"

"Oh, yeah. Jimmy too."

Jake ducked his head and whispered, "stay home, pleeeeeze?"

Blair pulled the now quiet and compliant boy into his arms and nuzzled at his neck. "I can't, Jake. But I'll miss you very much. And the day will go fast, I promise. Pretty soon, Jimmy and I will be home and it will be as if we'd never left."

"nuh-huh."

"Bets?"

There was a pause, then a small voice
asked, "how much?"

"A dollar."

"kay. i already have sum dollars, i need way more for pressies."

"You scamp."


"Hey, welcome back, Hairboy!"

At Henri's pronouncement, heads shot up and were almost immediately followed by bodies as the detectives of Major Crime rushed forward to welcome Blair back.

Simon stepped to the door of his office and watched, letting his newest detecive have his moment. Then he turned back, walked to his desk, picked up a thick stack of folders, and with a grin, walked out to the squad room. Facing his people, he said sternly, "I believe we work around here, ladies and gentlemen?"

Everyone immediately scattered. As Jim and Blair walked to their desks, Simon followed. He waited until jackets were discarded and his best team had taken their seats, then with a satisifed smirk, he dumped the files, half on Jim's desk and half on Blair's. "Welcome back, Sandburg. Now get to work."

Sticking his unlit cigar in his mouth, he strode back to his office.

Blair glanced over at Jim, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Gee, I missed this."


"Could you explain how, with only one hand, I still managed to get more reports processed than you?"

"Simple, I'm smarter."

"Damn."

"Ready for lunch?"

"After we phone a certain four year old?"

"Duh."

Laughing, Blair picked up the phone.


"you were gone--" Jake snuck a peek at his nomi, who held up all her fingers,
"ten ... ten hours."

Blair and Jim stood in the doorway of their home staring down at the guardian of the gate.

"Um... gee, Jake, it didn't seem that long to me. Why, to me, it seems as if we've hardly been gone at all."

Jake shook his head adamantly. "nope. ten hours. i had brekkie, i watched 'toons, i went to the park and me and corky tried to dig a hole to chiner, and cherry thought we were silly because she said we'd only end up in the--"

Once again he glanced back at his nomi, who said, "sewer".

"sewer. and then we had lunch but we had it at the maaaaaaall and i rode the horsey 'round and 'round and do you want to know what i had for lunch?"

Since neither man could move, they both nodded helplessly.

"i had... hot doggy on sticky! an lemunaid! it was goooood. but i don't like ... re...lish. and then we came home and i took a nappy and still you weren't home, and then i got up and we played games and i ran outside and still you weren't home, but now you are and you were gone a looooong time!"

Narrowing his eyes at his mother, then sighing theatrically, Blair pulled out his wallet, unfolded it, and slipped out a dollar bill. Making a show of kissing it good-bye, he handed it down to his son. Who grabbed it with glee and allowed his fathers inside.

Things were back to normal. Or at least, what passed for normal in the Ellison-Sandburg home.


"I think I can safely state that you are fit for active duty, Detective Sandburg."

"Thank you, Doctor. I think if I had to type one more detective's report or take one more complaint about mice in Christmas stockings, well, you'd have to kill me."

Doctor Cravens chuckled as he wrote out the "Return to Work" form. Signing it with a flourish, he handed the white slip to Blair. "So tell me, Detective, did anyone find mice in the Christmas stockings?"


"Our problem, Chief, is when do we get the tree? How do we do this?"

"Um, I don't know. Maybe - next week? Which means it will be up for two weeks before Christmas?"

"Okay, so how do we handle the presents?"

It had been over a week since Blair had been released back to full duty and during that time, he and Jim had been struggling with the hows of their first Christmas with Jake. Both men understood that they would be setting up traditions that would last a lifetime and neither man wanted to make a mistake.

"What do you mean, the presents?"

"Well, do all the presents come from Santa, or do we tell him that some come from us and some from Santa?"

"Oh, shit. This is getting complicated."

"You're sharp like a knife, Einstein."

"Ellison, Sandburg, would it be possible for you two to stop bickering long enough to join me in my office?"

As Jim stood, he said, "Sir, we are not bickering, we're discussing the very real problem of how to have our first Christmas with Jake."

"Well," Simon scratched his chin, then said, "See, you buy a tree, you decorate it, you have a Christmas goose or a turkey or a roast, you open your presents--"

"Yeah, but do you open them Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?"

Simon stopped dead and favored his number one detective with a look that clearly labeled the man a knucklehead.

"Detective Ellison, how can one open one's presents from Santa before Santa comes?"

Blair reached over, grabbed a notepad and handed it to his partner. "You'd better take notes, Jim."

"You're gonna pay, Sandburg."

"Gentlemen, as much as I'd love to continue this scintillating conversation, I have a new case for you. Now get your butts in my office and I mean now."

The two men hurried.

Once settled, Simon picked up a file and handed it to Jim, then he perched on the edge of his desk. "I'm getting heat on this one, gentlemen. And no jokes."

Blair gave Simon a double take as he asked, "Jokes? Just what kind of case is it?"

A snort from Jim caused Blair to ask, "Jim?"

"We're about to investigate Santa Claus, Chief."

"Oh, shit."


"Five robberies in the middle of the day, in busy neighborhoods, and all witnesses say the same thing--"

"They saw Santa Claus approaching the homes that were later discovered to have been robbed."

"You got it, Chief."

Blair flipped through several pages of the report sent up from Burglary while making small noises of acknowledgement.

"Sandburg, would you cut that out. You're driving me crazy."

Looking up, Blair favored Jim with his best who me? expression and said innocently, "What?"

"The symphony of sounds that seem to accompany your reading of any report."

Glancing back down and hiding a smile, Blair said huffily, "I don't know what you mean, Jim. And you're just upset because I've already figured out a few things."

Lounging back in his chair, Jim clasped his hands behind his head and smirked. "Oh, yeah? Like what, Einstein? Like - our robber is cleverly disguised as Santa Claus?"

"Har-har. Did you, O Great Detective of the Year, notice that according to residents, no unusual trucks or vans were in the neighborhood when Santa was spotted? And that in three of the five robberies, Santa was seen leaving the house with nothing more than a large sack? And that none of the victims reported anything missing other than the presents under the tree?"

"So?"

"So, no vcr's taken, no DVD players snitched, no computers stolen, no jewelry missing, no coin collections disappearing ... just presents. And of course, all the victims had huge picture windows with the tree and gifts prominently displayed in front of said window for the entire world to see."

Sensing that Blair wasn't finished and that the best was yet to come, Jim couldn't contain his interest. He leaned forward, saying, "Go on."

"Well, we need to get a list of what was taken. That's not here and neither is the address of the latest hit, which, according to Simon, was this morning."

"And the list is going to tell you what?"

"I've got an idea, but until I see the list of stolen items ... well, I wouldn't presume to speculate."

"You asshole." Then Jim wiggled his fingers at his partner and said, "Give it up, Sandburg, give it up."

Looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, Blair said just two words, "Swap meet."

Jim stood, pushed back his chair, grabbed his and Blair's jackets and headed for the elevator. Pausing at the doors to Major Crime, he said impatiently, "Well? You coming?"

Blair did a couple of bows as he said,"Yas, mastah, anything for you, mastah."

"Oh, shut up."


"I've got it here somewhere... it was just compiled...."

Detective Andy Anderson shuffled the mound of paperwork on his messy desk, moved four styrofoam cups half-filled with days old coffee, dumped a Breakfast Jack into the trash and finally held up a computer printout. "Got it!"

The soon-to-be retired detective handed off the spread sheet to Blair, then slumped back into his chair. Wiping his brow, he said, "I gotta tell you fellas, I'm damn glad this case is off my back and onto yours. The mayor was hounding my captain, who in turn was hounding me. Now it's all yours. Enjoy."

Blair scanned the list and nodded almost to himself as Jim sat on the edge of Anderson's desk and asked, "I understand there was another robbery this morning? Did you roll on that one? We didn't get any paperwork on it, so I'm wondering--"
"Yeah, I went out, and no, nothing different or new. My partner should be back any minute and he's got the information on today's. You also might want to head over to yesterday's hit. The scene is still fresh in as much as the owners won't be back til tonight. No one's been in the house but us."

Blair looked up from the print-out and asked, "That's the one that the neighbor called in?"

"Yep. Some senior citizen busybody who'd heard about the robberies on the news."

Jim glanced over at his partner and winked. "My kind of busybody," he said drolly.

Before Anderson could form a reply, another detective walked in, a manila folder in his hand.

"Hey, Pete, you know Ellison from Major Crime?"

The new arrival smiled and headed over to Anderson's desk. "Sure do. How are you, Jim? And don't tell me you got stuck with this one?"

"'Fraid so, Pete. How's Hildy?"

"She's fine. Expecting again. We should be welcoming in our own New Year's baby."

"Well, congratulations, Pete." Jim stood up, adding, "You know my partner, Blair Sandburg?"

The two men smiled at each other as Detective Peter Cummings nodded. "You bet I do. I still owe you one, Blair."

"Hey, no problem. Do you happen to have the information from the robbery this morning?"

"I do owe you and yeah, this is it. Just got it signed off by Captain Fitzgerald. I was going to hand deliver it to you guys up in MC. Here you go."

As he handed the report to Jim, he added, "I pity you guys. On the other hand, if anyone can bust this creep, it's you two."

"Hey, from the looks of the paperwork you generated, and all the information you two gathered, I'd say any bust will be as much yours as ours. Deal?"

Patting Jim on the back, Pete said, grinning, "Deal."


Walking toward the elevator, Jim mused, "I don't know how Pete puts up with Anderson."

"Hey," Blair said, his nose still buried in the report, "the guy is nearing retirement, give him a break."

Pushing the up button, Jim shook his head and said, "Retirement doesn't mean you turn into a jerk, Sandburg. And to tell the truth, Anderson was never worth much as a cop. He's been doing nothing more than putting in his time for two decades."

"He's just not an overachiever like you."

"Listen, Letterman--"

"Oh my God, Jim." As Blair spoke, his face drained of a good deal of its natural color.

"What is it, Chief?"

Looking up from the report, a stricken expression on his face, Blair said, "The address. The robbery this morning. It's Makeba and Terry."


Jim pulled the truck alongside the curb and cut the engine. As Blair was about to open the door, Jim's hand stopped him. "Chief, Jake is in there."

"What?"

"Naomi too. Sounds as though they came over from the park. They're having cookies and milk with Cherry and Makeba."

Blair twisted his head around and finally spotted his mother's car. "Well damn."

"Let's get this done."

As they walked up to the door, neither man missed the huge Christmas tree in the bay window. The tree with nothing underneath. Jim was about to ring the doorbell when the door was swung open by - Jake.

"my jimmy? daddy?" he exclaimed, stunned.

"Hey, Hoss, you and Naomi just leaving?" Jake stepped back and both men could see Naomi and Makeba approaching. The expression on both women's faces said told the two men that both women knew exactly why they were there.

Makeba made a welcoming gesture with her hand and said, "Jim, Blair, please, come in."

Jake helped by pushing open the screen door, then leaving his arms up - the obvious signal for one of his fathers to pick him up. Naomi, seeing the grave expressions on her son's face, and with a glance to the tree in the window, did the picking up.

"We should have called, Makeba, but--"

Blair started to explain, but Cherry's mother just waved a hand, saying, "No, no, it's okay. I"m glad you're here."

Naomi rested a hand on Makeba's shoulder and said, "I'm going to take Jake home, but we'll see you on Monday, right?"

"Absolutely. And thanks for the ideas, you're a life-saver." Makeba dropped a kiss on Jake's cheek, saying, "We'll see you this weekend, as planned, okay, honey?"

Jake was still staring at his fathers, clearly confused, but at Makeba's words, he nodded and said, "yup! me an cherry an corky are gonna make some goodies!"

"Right." Then Makeba turned to Jim and Blair and with one eyebrow raised in question, said, "We are still on for Sunday?"

"Of course we are," Blair affirmed.

"Okay, then," Naomi said, moving toward the door, "Jake and I will get home and we'll see you two later. Jake, you want to kiss them good-bye?"

Nodding, Jake leaned forward and bussed both men, then turned in Naomi's arms and waved to Cherry, who had come up behind her mother and was now clinging to her leg.

"bye, cherry, see you later!"

"bye, jakey."

Naomi stepped out onto the porch and with a wave, headed to her car. Jake twisted around so that he could continue to watch his fathers from his perch in her arms. She got him to the car, put him in the carseat, then slid in behind the wheel and a few moments later, pulled away from the curb.

Makeba stepped aside and as Jim and Blair moved into the large living room, she hoisted Cherry up into her arms and said, "Can you give me a few minutes? I want to get sleepyhead here down for her nap."

"Of course. Sweet dreams, Cherry," Blair said with a smile.

"Ditto, sweetheart."

"bye jimmy and blair!"

She waved, then dropped her head back down onto her mother's shoulder. Makeba grinned and walked down the long hall and out of sight.

Once gone, Jim began to walk around, his senses on full alert. Blair followed behind. After a few minutes, he asked, "Got anything?"

"You know, there's something weird--"

"What?"

"A smell. It's not tied to Makeba, Terry or the kids, and certainly not to Naomi or Jake ... and I can almost ... identify it--"

"Sweet? Sour? Fruity?"

Jim snapped his fingers and said, "Got it! Steven's favorite gum when we were growing up. Fruit Stripe gum."

Blair shot Jim a rather skeptical look as he repeated, "Fruit Stripe gum?"

"Yeah, that's what I'm smelling."

"O-kay," Blair said dubiously. Before he could go any further with the discussion on Fruit Stripe gum, Makeba walked back into the living room and with a sigh, dropped down onto the couch.

After swiping a few stray curls back from her forehead, she waved a hand indicating that Jim and Blair should sit down. "I guess you're here on business, right?"

"I'm afraid so, Keeba. And I can't tell you how sorry both Blair and I are about what happened this morning. But I must say, the place looks good. Evidently Burglary cleaned up after themselves."

"They did. And I'm very grateful. They took several prints but a Detective Anderson said that he doubted that any would be ... what did he call it? Lat--"

"Latents," Blair finished for her.

"Right, latents. And as glad as I am to see you both here, I can't help but wonder why you two?"

Jim supplied the answer with a small, I'm sorry kind of smile. "There've been five robberies in as many days and Mayor Griffen kicked the case up to Major Crime."

"I see. Well, we were fortunate, Jim. Very fortunate."

"How's that, Keeba?" Blair asked.

"The presents that were stolen weren't family gifts. We normally keep those," she lowered her voice, "hidden because Santa brings them. The only presents under the tree were gifts for work, our gardner, that kind of thing. And thank heaven we were late this year in buying the small exchange gifts."

Seeing the puzzled expression on the faces of both men, she explained. "See, Santa brings most of the presents, but we still teach the children about giving and they earn money to buy for each other and Terry and I. And we do the same. Under normal conditions, by this time, my gift to Terry and vice versa, is usually under the tree, as well as a few other family gifts. But between one thing and another, and Jeremy being with his grandmother until the twentieth, well, we haven't done much shopping."

"A silver lining after all, then?" Jim asked.

"Definitely. And thanks to Naomi, I have some terrific ideas on how I can replace what was stolen without breaking the bank. So to speak. And Cherry handled it fine because of course, she--"

"Knows Santa comes on the twenty-fourth?" Blair offered.

"Exactly. She told Jake what happened, but don't worry, we didn't mention that the man was dressed as Santa." Makeba smiled fondly as she added, "Jake was more concerned than Cherry. And he was very concerned about our newspaper person, Rosie. Jake wants to help replace her gift."

Blair chuckled at that and said, "Well, Rosie is our paperperson too, and she's very patient with Jake when she comes to collect. They've become great friends."

Makeba nodded knowingly and then asked, "So what can I tell you that hasn't already been said about the robbery?"

Jim pinched his nose, then said, "This may sound weird, but have you, or Cherry, been chewing gum today?"

"You're right, that is weird," she said with a smile. "But the answer is no. No one chews gum in our family except Terry, and to anticipate your question, he chews Dentyne."

Laughing, Jim said, "Thank you, good bit of anticipation there. Okay, how about any of the cops who were here this morning? Or any other folks who might have been in the house today?"

Makeba frowned as she tried to recall the men and women who'd been in her home, but finally she shook her head.
"No, no one was chewing gum. One person had some candy, and he offered a piece to Cherry, but that's it." She tilted her head and asked, "Are you noticing how I'm refraining from asking why the interest in gum?"

"You're a strong woman, Keeba. What can we say?"

"Blair," she said warningly. "You are going to tell me, right?"

"Actually, it's just something I can smell, Keeba."

Makeba stared at Jim for a second, then asked, "You can smell gum? In my house?"

"He has a good nose, Keeba. What can I say? That's why I call him hound dog."

"Cute nickname, Blair. I'll have to remember that."

Jim rose while shooting a dirty look at his partner, who stuck out his tongue.
Facing Makeba, Jim said, "We're going to get the guy, Keeba, I promise. And please, just ignore Sandburg."

She got up, and laughing, led them to the door. "Have I said how glad I am that you two are working on this?" she said, as they stepped out onto the porch.

"No, but you can say it again. We are Cascade's finest," Blair bragged humorously.

"Yes, well, go get him, guys. Even if he is Santa Claus."

"Hey, we always get our myth."

Both Makeba and Blair grimaced at Jim's attempt at humor. Blair added a punch to his arm.

"Hey, that was good."

Blair reached up and grabbed Jim's ear lobe, then tugged. "Come on, hound dog, let's get going."

"You are so dead."

Laughing, Makeba watched her friends leave, and for the first time that day, felt better about the investigation. In spite of her words about how lucky they'd been, the fact was, her home had been violated. When Terry came home, they were going to have a serious talk about alarms.


"Well?"

"You're not going to believe this, but yeah, Fruit Stripe gum. Faint, but here."

"Well, I'll be damned. Our Santa chews Fruit Stripe."

"Yep."

Jim and Blair gazed around the home that had been hit the day before, then headed back to the station to run their ideas on how to catch their Santa by Simon.


"Swap meets and Fruit Stripe gum, gentlemen?"

"Well, yeah," Blair offered brightly. "See, if you look at the items that were taken, well, they're small ticket stuff. Exactly the kind of things you find at the local swap meet. Not the kind of things you fence or sell out of the back of a van." Then he added after the fact, "Sir."

"And of course, Jim will know him by the Oeu de Parfum of Fruit Stripe that follows him everywhere, right?"

"Well, yeah."

Simon sat back and closed his eyes. "This is not fair. This is Major Crime and yet my two best men will be at a swap meet on Saturday, looking for a criminal Santa who chews Fruit Stripe gum. Where are the mad bombers? The gun runners? Tell me that, please."

"Um... in jail, Simon?"

"Shut up, Sandburg."

"Yes sir."

"How many people do you need tomorrow, Jim?"

"I think between myself, Blair, Conner and Taggert, we'll be covered. But if he isn't at the Roscoe Swap Meet tomorrow, we'll be looking at some serious man power next week. We have mulitple swap meets between Tuesday and Friday, with some on the same day."

"Then may I suggest that you catch this guy tomorrow?"

"Wouldn't have it any other way, sir."

"And Jim? I really don't want a man arrested because you smelled some weird gum. Let's strive for something a bit more - District Attorney oriented, right?"

"Of course, sir."

"Go home, gentlemen."

Jim and Blair were almost out the door when Simon stopped them. "The Paramour's telephone number, is it in the report?"

Blair, hiding his grin, said, "Yes, sir, it is."

"Good, good."

He was picking up the phone as they closed the door behind them.


"We're going to need to talk with him about the robbery at Cherry's, you know that, right?"

"Oh, yeah. Not that I don't think your mother won't have done her part. I'm just praying that he can understand why we couldn't prevent it."

Jim pulled the truck into their carport, and with twin sighs, the two men headed into their home.


"but, but--"

"But what, Hoss?"

"why?" Jake asked plaintively.

Blair, Jim and Naomi sat in the living room with Jake, who was seated on Blair's lap. His head was down and small fingers played abstractly with the buttons on Blair's shirt.

Upon their arrival home, Jake had been unusually silent as he followed his fathers while jackets were removed. He watching them both as if they held the keys to the universe. Finally Blair had picked him up and carried him to the couch, Jim and Naomi not far behind. Now, ten minutes later, Jake was still struggling to understand about this thing called robbery. Somehow, his fathers and grandmother had to explain the world to a little boy who shouldn't have had to learn about the intimacy of crime so soon.

"Jake," Blair said tenderly, "there are people who think they can take from others. The majority of the world, the majority of people, are good, kind and generous, but there are also those who try to steal. That's what happened to Cherry and her family. Someone broke in while everyone was gone, took things that didn't belong to them, and left. But to tell you why, well, that's a hard one.

"Some people just seem to think they're entitled, that because they can take what isn't theirs, they do. They're greedy and want to take instead of earn."

"they be baaaad then and you're gonna catch 'em, right?"

Jim took the small hand in his and rubbing gently, said, "We're going to try, Jake. And before any other family has to go through what Cherry and Makeba and Terry and Cherry's brother have gone through. That's a promise."

"could -- it -- happentous?" Jake's words started out slow, then tumbled out in anxiety.

Looking over Jake's head, Jim's worried gaze met his partner's.

"Jake," Jim finally said, "it would be very hard. First of all, you need a gate card to get into the courtyard and we have very good locks."

"better 'n cherry's?"

"Well, by now, I suspect Terry has already installed new locks. The detectives who originally rolled on the call advised Makeba on how to improve the protection of their home. By now, I Cherry is as safe as you are."

"that's good. so we have the bestest locks?"

"Yes, we do, Jake," Jim answered truthfully.

"and my nomi?"

Jim chuckled at that and said, "Well, she is living in my old home, so yes, she does."

"and santy?"

"Santa has the best protection of all, Jake, " Blair offered. "He lives in the North Pole and no one knows how to find him. Plus, he has Rudolph and the elves."

"but he doesn't have you and my jimmy," Jake whined.

"No," Naomi said gently, "but you and I do. And now Cherry does too. Those bad guys are gonna be toast."

Her words were so - out of character, so completely not Naomi Sandburg, flowerchild of the sixties, that Jim and Blair dropped their jaws in complete shock. Jake, on the other hand, was in complete agreement with his grandmother. Pumping his hand up and down, he said excitedly, "yeah! they be toast!"

"Gee, Jim, I think our work here is done."

"Right, SuperGuppy, we have once again saved the town, the world, and the universe as we know it."

"Hey, JimboMan, this ever get boring for you? All the exhaltation, the adulation, the fawning?"

"Why, no, SuperGuppy, I live for it. Saving the world is tough work and we've got to get our perks somewhere. Like right now?"

"Yeah, JimboMan?"

"I could use, for instance, an eskimo kiss, followed immediately by a butterfly kiss. How 'bout you, SuperGuppy?"

"Oh, yeah." Blair tilted his head to catch Jake's eye and asked, "Well, Jakemeister the Magnificent, what say you? You up to a few eskimo and butterfly kisses?"

"ab-so-lut-leeee! must give esk-eeeeemo and butterfly kisses now!"

Jake turned around and bracing himself on his knees, leaned forward and first bestowed a butterfly kiss against Blair's cheek, then they rubbed noses. Giggling, Jake crawled onto his other father's lap and repeated the process.

Smiling, Naomi asked, "Anybody ready for dinner?"

"yup! an we're having mac and cheesy!"

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go, Hoss," Jim said.

Taking Jake's hand, Blair helped him jump down from the couch and he, Jake and Jim followed Naomi into the kitchen.


"So tomorrow you two stake out the swap meet?"

Blair's head shot up at his mother's words. He immediately got up from his spot next to Jim, and upon reaching her side, placed a hand on her forehead. "Well, your skin is cool, so no fever."

"Blair?"

"Hey, I'm just checking, Mom. You used the word 'stake-out', and earlier, there was the whole 'toast' thing, you know?"

Naomi swatted her son's hand away and shaking a finger at him, said, "It's not nice to fool with your mother, SuperGuppy."

Holding his arms up in surrender, Blair said, laughing, "Whoa, back off, pistol -packing Grandma!"

"Dear, I think for -- pistols -- you need to address yourself to Jim."

For the second time that evening, both Jim's and Blair's jaws dropped.


"SuperGuppy? SuperGuppy?"

"What, you don't like it?"

Blair shifted onto his side, braced his head on his hand, and said, "But SuperGuppy? That's not very - you know - macho."

Jim flipped onto his side, and running a hand up and down Blair's arm, said, "Well, you are my SuperGuppy, right?"

"This is another reference to my height situation, isn't it?"

"Not at all," Jim quickly said.

"So it's an age thing? Because I'm younger?"

"Nope."

"So?"

"Gay - upwardly mobile - protector - and last but certainly not least - yapper."

"Were you planning on having sex with anyone in particular tonight?"

"Well ... the thought had crossed my mind, along with a few other things.
Why?"

"Yapper?"

"Okay, how 'bout--"

"Forget it, Ellison. The hole you've dug is way too deep now--"

"Nonsense. What I meant to say was, gay - upwardly mobile - protector - and ... yiddish," Jim finished proudly.

"Upwardly mobile?"

Jim reached down and began to stoke Blair's penis through his shorts. After a moment, he smirked and said, "Yeah,
'upwardly mobile'."

"Well, okay then. SuperGuppy rides again."

Blair rolled over onto Jim, and letting his hair trail across Jim's face, he added, "And tonight, I do the riding."

"Whatever, my little--"

"Jim," Blair said, warning in his voice. "...my handsome, tall, rugged, powerful, macho ... am I done yet?"

"A bit more groveling would be good."

"Sex would be better."

"True."

Blair captured Jim's mouth with his own and their laughter was exchanged through the kiss. They rolled about a bit, their mirth soon smothered by hot kisses only partially interrupted by Jim's fumbling for the necessary items. Blair took control then and quickly reversed their positions so that he was on the bottom. He raised his knees and with small moans, encouraged to Jim urgency.

Jim rose, planted his legs on either side of Blair, and with quick, practised strokes, prepared them both, while
stealing kisses at the same time.

Resting his lips against Blair's, Jim whispered, "Are we good to go, my superguppy?"

"If all my blood hadn't traveled south, I'd have a snappy comeback, JimboMan."

Smiling, Jim entered him in one fluid stroke. He stayed in place, holding back his passion as he watched the play of emotions crossing Blair's face. When Blair arched back, eyes tightly shut, Jim attacked the extended neck, suckling on the enticing adam's apple. He was really getting into it when strong legs suddenly wrapped around his waist. Before he could SuperGuppy three times, he was on his back, still buried to the hilt in Blair, who was grinning up at him.

Moving languidly forward, he said,
"Didn't I say that it was my turn to do the riding?" Blair hissed against Jim's temple. At Jim's barely controlled nod, Blair added, "Well then, riding is exactly what I'm gonna do."

Blair began to do exactly that and suddenly it was Jim's neck that was extended, his eyes that were closed, and his sounds of passion and pleasure filling the room.

Using the strength in his legs and nothing else, Blair moved up and down on Jim's dick, changing position just enough to ensure that his prostate was getting its full attention. When he felt his own impending orgasm, he'd slow, rock forward and clamp his lips over Jim's, eventually slowing to a complete stop while he excavated Jim's mouth.
When Jim clamped his hands on Blair's hips, begging him to move again, Blair would start rocking.

Sweat covered both men as they worked at extending their love-making beyond normal. Eventually, Jim had to come and he arched up as Blair moved down. With two more such moves, he came with, thanks to Blair's mouth, a muffled yell,

Blair, with a little help from Jim's hand on his dick, followed shortly thereafter. As the last of his orgasm shuddered through his body, he collapsed on top of Jim.

Fifteen minutes later, Jim, with just enough where-with-all to speak, said in amazement, "When did you learn that?"

Without lifting his head, Blair said sleepily, "I didn't. I read it. Cool, uh?"

"Roy Rogers should ride so good."

"Hey, Trigger always looked happy. For that matter, so did Buttermilk."


"No, Jake, we'll be home early, I promise. The swap meet closes down at one today, so we'll be back in time to go tree shopping, okay?"

"promuse?" Jake gazed up at his father, eyes wide and worried.

"I promise. And do you remember what we're doing tomorrow?" Blair asked with a sidelong glance at Jim.

Jake bit his lower lip and stared at the ceiling, then Jim leaned down and whispered in his ear, "va-rooom...."

Grinning broadly, Jake said, "yup! new cars!"

"You got it, Hoss. Now give me and Jim a kiss and we're off."

Jake's arms went up and Jim lifted. As Jake settled, he kissed Jim's cheek, then as he was allowed to drift forward, he dropped into Blair's arms and slobbered all over Blair's cheek. Putting Jake down, Blair laughed, and as he wiped his face, he said, "Good Jakeydoggy, good doggy."

"arf-arf!"


Blair stood a few yards from the busy entrance to the swap meet, foot tapping impatiently, two entry tickets being tapped just as impatiently on his open palm. A few moments later, he spotted Jim. When Jim reached his side, he said, "Megan and Joel all set?"

"Yep. They'll come in fifteen minutes after us. We'll take the west end, they'll take the east."

"But you need to cover the entire--"

Jim held up a hand and smiling, said, "I know, Chief, and we will. When we reach the back row, where the food is, we'll cross paths and repeat, but on opposite sides."

"Oh, okay." Blair glanced down at his feet and sighed. "Sure am glad I wore these shoes. We're gonna walk off the rubber."

Chuckling, Jim noticed that the gate was open and people, eager to spend their Christmas money on swap meet gifts, were heading inside. With an elbow into Blair's side, he said, "This is it, let's go."


"Are you filtering out all the smells okay, Jim?"

"Yeah, yeah, thanks to you."

"Hey, if you can find a guy in a sewer, you can find someone in here."

"Good point."

They were walking down aisle seven and had been at it for over an hour with no luck. The small transmitter in Jim's ear told him that the team of Conner of Taggert were having the same kind of luck.

According to Blair, they were looking for a stall that had a multitude of items ranging from clothing, toys, and shoes, to small electronics. According to the swap meet map, there were over twenty such stalls.

Feeling a hand on his back, Jim turned to look down at his partner.

"Jim, here's the other one, coming up on our left."

"Got it. And looks like the biggest one yet."

"Yeah."

Putting on their bored, where are our wives look, they strolled forward, and separating slightly, started perusing the goods. At one table, Blair stopped and started fingering a shirt, which brought Jim over.

"This one of the items, Chief?" he whispered.

"No, but look, a Harry Potter shirt, Jim. Jake would--"

At one look from Jim, Blair had the good sense to blush. "Right," he said sheepishly.

Rolling his eyes, Jim said, "I don't smell the gum, and so far nothing really matches so go ahead, earmark this stall and maybe later--"

Chuckling, Blair nodded, then shook his head and said, "We're so bad now."

"Speak for yourself, Charlie Brown."


"Oh, man, Jim, check this out."

Jim, used the outbursts now, turned to
find Blair standing in front of a large toy stall. On the ground, in the top of a box, a small electric puppy was yipping and jumping, and some weird stuffed animal apparently chasing a ball.

Shaking his head, Jim said,"Sandburg, you're impossible."

"Oh, come on, we know this one isn't the right one, and damn, this would be a perfect stocking stuffer. See? It's a like a ferret and there's this battery in the plastic ball and the ferret is attached but it looks as though it's chasing the ball. See?"

Biting back the chuckle that was threatening to erupt, he grabbed Blair's arm and led him away, saying, "Stall 42, aisle 17. Okay?"

"Oops. Sorry."

"Asshole," Jim said fondly.

"Yep."


"Jim, look, a palmcorder, same model as the one on our list, and it's the only one." He gave a covert nod to his right and added, "Aand over there, the Hermes bag, and there, the baby clothes--"

They were at the second to the last possible stall. Blair was talking sentinel soft, his eyes were on his partner, who was on the other side of the large stall. He watched Jim nod, then tap his nose.

The gum. Jim must smell the gum.

Blair watched Jim walk away and figured that he was giving Megan and Joel the word. Several minutes later, Blair spotted them hurrying up the aisle and stop next to Jim.

"Sir, may I help you?"

Blair whirled around and found himself facing their suspect. The man looked to be about forty-five, portly, a natural beard of white, and he was chewing gum. Gathering his wits, Blair held up the palmcorder and said, "I need two of these, but only see one here. Do you have anohter one by any chance?"

Their thieving Santa shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid not, sir. That's the only one left."

"May I see that?" Jim's voice came from behind Blair, and the suspect, gazing worriedly at Jim and the two people beside him, stepped back.

Blair handed it over and watched as Jim flipped the box over, then looked up and said, "Why, there's a name written on the back. It says, Jerry. How odd. A friend of mine was robbed last week and one of the gifts stolen was a palmcorder just like this one. See, my friend always writes the receipient's name on the gift before wrapping. Her son's name is Jerry. How do you explain that, Mister?"

The man took another step back, and before anyone could blink, he placed both hands on the edge of one of the display tables and pushed hard. The table was upended and items went flying as the suspect made his escape.

Batting purses and clothing away from their heads, Jim, Blair, Megan and Joel went into pursuit, Jim yelling out, "FREEZE, CASCADE POLICE DEPARTMENT!"

The guy continued his flight, knocking over patrons, shoving his way through stalls, and dislodging goods in his attempt to flee.

Blair noticed a stall with an opening in the back and immediately veered left, ran through it, turned right, and seconds later was tackling their suspect to the ground.

Jim thundered up alongside and catching his breath, watched with a grin as Blair flipped the guy over, Mirandized him, and cuffed him like the pro he'd become.

Spectators had gathered and as Megan and Joel came up, they yelled for everyone to stand back, and to please stay out of the way. Blair struggled up with his prize and gratefully handed him over to Joel.

"Nicely done, Chief. How's the arm?"

Blair rubbed his shoulder and rotated it a bit, then grinning, said, "Fine. And we have time to go back, buy those items we spotted, do our reports and get home before one."

Heading back to the stall that housed all the stolen items, dragging their suspect who was not protesting, Megan said, "Hey, if you guys are gonna buy some things, if I give you a list and Joel and I take this scumbag in, will you--"

Interrupting his partner, Joel added, "Yeah, me too. I wrote it all down--"

Jim froze in his tracks. Turning to face his fellow detectives, he said in a stunned voice, "This was a stake-out, right? When did police work turn into a Christmas shopping expedition?"

With a charming shrug, Blair answered, "Hey, you gotta learn to take your opportunities when they knock, you know?" Ignoring Jim's look of disgust, he said to Megan and Joel, "Here, give me your lists and we'll take care of it. And don't forget to give me the money too."

Watching the exchange, Jim had to admit that police work just wasn't what it used to be. If asked, he could track the change to the day Blair Sandburg started riding with him.

Okay, so maybe police work was better now.


"Wow," Blair exclaimed happily as he gazed at the packages on the floor of the truck. "We done good, Jim."

Glancing down, Jim had to admit, they did have a pretty terrific haul. They'd managed to find not only a slew of fun gifts for Jake, but found gifts for most of their friends. The truly fantastic find of the afternoon, though, had to have been the gift they'd found at a stall on Megan's list, namely a stall that specialized in items and clothing of the sixities. One look and Blair had known that he'd find the perfet gift for his mother, and he had.

"I still can't believe they had that Nehru jacket. You just don't know how upset Naomi was when our luggage was lost during one of our moves. I mean, that jacket was special because of the pattern. And to find a similar one, albeit in green and gold, well, we're talking major groovy, you know?"

"Why do I not think that when she bought the original, it didn't cost a hundred and ten bucks?"

"Hey, what can I say? She's been looking for that jacket for years. Now, thanks
to our case, we've got it for her. And I notice you didn't balk at spending fifty on that Woodstock poster for her."
"Yeah, well, I still can't believe you were there."

"Yeah, I know. Kinda wasted on a three month old baby, uh?"

"Why is it that I can see your mother, long hair flowing, probably flowers woven through it, wearing a daisy dress, and on her back, in a papoose; you."

"Um, because you've seen the pictures?"

"Oh, yeah. And boy, were you cute. Naked as a jaybird, crawling around on that blanket, surrounded by a horde of horny, drugged teens--"

"Please, don't remind me that you saw that picture."

"Yuk-yuk."

"Just drive. Let's hope that our everloving son is still at the park so that we can sneak this stuff into our bedroom."

"Actually, I'm thinking, thanks to our everloving, that we let Naomi take the stuff for Jake?"

"Ooh, good idea, Jim. We can wrap the stocking stuffers and other items at the loft on our lunch hours."

"We?"

"Yes, father Jim - we."

"Damn."

"He's so going to love that Harry Potter shirt."


"you caught 'em!" Jake was jumping up and down in the courtyard and gleefully announcing to anyone who'd listen, that his fathers had got the bad guys.

"Yeah, Jake, we did. And actually, your daddy tackled him and brought him down. Now Cherry's mom and dad will get their stuff back."

"yippee," the boy yelled as he launched himself at his fathers. Somehow, they caught him and Blair swung him up to perch between the two men as John and two other neighbors came up to congratulate the two detectives.

Everyone spent a few more minutes hearing about the caught evil-doer, but eventually Jim and Blair headed inside with their son.

Stepping inside,Jim said, voice revealing his excitement, "Hey, it's still pretty early, how 'bout we go car hunting right now?"

"yippeeee! wanna go car hunting, wanna go car hunting!"

"Sounds good to me, Jim. And maybe dinner at The Cove?"

"Good idea, Chief. How does that sound to you, Naomi?"

"You three go and have fun. I'm meeting Valerie again."

"You sure, Mom?"

"Yep. In fact, I'll head out now."

Saying her good-byes and receiving her kiss from Jake, Naomi left

As the door shut behind her, Jim gazed over at Blair and said, "Well, where should we start?"

"How 'bout the AutoFair out on the 91? It has the biggest selection of makers and they're known for being willing to deal."

"Sounds good. Is Ben Riley still taking the Volvo?"

"Yep, as soon as I find a replacement. He's gonna restore it for auto shows. And did I tell you," Blair said, as he grabbed Jake's jacket, "that he's interested in your truck. Maybe we should give him a call tonight?"

"Sounds like a plan."

Jake now stood between them, head moving from one to the other as they talked, a huge grin on his face.


"What about another Expedition?"

"No way, Jim. Bad karma all around. And don't even think about another F-150 either."

Jim was about to toss the appropriate retort in the direction of his partner, when his eyes glazed over and he pointed to his left.

"Jim, what? Are you okay?"

Jake, sitting on top of his father's shoulders, leaned to his side to peer at his Jimmy and tap his cheek.

"Look," Jim said breathlessly.

Both Jake and Blair followed Jim's pointing finger and Blair grinned.

Sitting on top of a rock for prominent display, and glistening in the afternoon sun, sat a shiny red, two-door, Ford F-350.

"Any bad karma associated with getting an F-*3*50?" Jim asked with a dopey grin.

"Jim? I'm thinking... over compensation? You know what they say about men and big--"

Jake, who'd been looking at the red car, let his eyes roam further west and suddenly started pounding the top of Jim's head in excitement. "lookey, lookey!"

"What, Jake?"

"that, that - much better, jimmy, much better!'

Following Jake's waving hand, Jim and Blair spotted another Ford, also posed enticingly on a similar rock, but on the other other side of the Ford lot's driveway. It was a black four-door, F-250.

Jim's eyes widened, and without tearing his gaze from the beautiful sight, he said, "We could compromise--"

To no one in particular, Blair said, "I think we just bought ourselves an F-250."


"Can we get the seat in the back with the built-in car seat?" Blair asked the car salesman.

The man, who'd identified himself as "Ricky" the moment he'd spotted Jim's adoring expression, nodded, saying, "Of course. No problem." He glanced down at the paperwork and wrote it in, then looked back up and said, "So, we've got the four-door F-250 with the built-in car seat, and you wanted the cab over, right?" At Jim's nod, the man went on.

"You want the black with the gray interior, which comes with the CD/tape player, remote key entry, cab shield--"

His voice went on with Jim nodding and Blair grinning at his partner. Jim had already scoped out the best deal possible, and with the discount this dealer offered to Cascade police officers and firemen, their bill was coming in at about twenty-eight thousand. They'd already decided to put ten down on any car or truck they'd ended up choosing, thus making their monthly payments more manageable.

With all the dealing and the discount, they were saving about five thousand on Jim's new truck.

"...delivery can be expected around the second week in January, which is pretty good considering we don't get many people ordering the F-250 with the built-in car seat. So," Ricky said, as he turned the paperwork around, "just sign here, and you've bought yourself a new truck. We're saving quite a bit of time, thanks to the Cascade City Employees Credit Union and the certificate you brought in. Just wish more people would think ahead that way."

Jim signed on the dotted line, then took out his checkbook and wrote out the downpayment. Tearing it out, he handed it over, supremely satisfied. His only regret was that he couldn't drive the
truck home.

"All right, I'll take this over to our business window and be back in a few moments with all the paperwork in an envelope." He walked away, leaving the three seated.

"we bought a car, daddy."

"Yep, we did. And with a built-in seat for you, Jake."

"yup! an we get to go ... camping ... in it, right?"

"We sure do," Jim affirmed. "As soon as it's Spring, we take you and the new truck on our first family camping trip. You get to sleep in a tent, in your sleeping bag--"

Jake, who was perched on the edge of the desk, hung his head at the words "sleeping bag". "don't have one anymore, 'member? i - messed - in it."

Jim leaned forward and whispered, "so ask santa for a new one."

Jake's head popped back up, his expression full of wonder. "santy?"

Blair, resting his hand on Jake's leg, said, "Yep, Santa. But make sure you tell Santa what kind of sleeping bag, okay?"

Jake's head swiveled around as he asked, "kind?"

"Like, maybe a Star Wars sleeping bag, or a Harry Potter sleeping bag, or one with your favorite toons on it?"

"oh." Jake said, as he started worrying his bottom lip. "gotta think on that, daddy."

"Yup," both Jim and Blair said, grinning.


"Okay, one vehicle down, one to go. Maybe a Mustang, Chief?"

Blair didn't respond right away, thanks to his gaze being fixed on the dealer across the small man-made river that wound its way through-out the dealerships.

"I'm thinking - if you can stick with Fords, I should stick with Volvos," he finally said thoughtfully.

"Well, sure. Like I always said, boxy but safe. Not your Volvo, of course, but other Volvos."

Blair snorted, then started walking toward the Volvo dealership.


Two hours later, no car.

"Chief, I'm guessing maybe Volvos are too boxy and too safe? Maybe we should look--"

"Chief" wasn't listening. His eyes had glazed over. Jim waved a hand in front of his suddenly comatose partner, then giving up, simply followed the bedazzled young man's gaze.

"Uh-oh," he said as he took in the sight. Ahead of them, surrounded by streamers flying in the December breeze, sat a metallic blue Volvo convertible. The C-70.

Blair moved over to the display car and as he lovingly ran his hand over the convertible top, Jim dropped his arm, the one not holding Jake's legs, over the salesman's shoulders and said, "Okay, let's deal."


"It's like having my Corvair back, only combined with my Volvo. It's like - wow," Blair said dreamily as they waited for their dinner order to be delivered.

Jim shook his head and grabbed another sourdough roll, broke it in two, slathered butter on it, then gave half to the wiggling fingers on his left. Jake munched happily as he listened to his parents.

"Blair, I swear, you're only thirty and yet, here you are, going through your second childhood."

"Hey, man, that car is solid. We got a good deal and the fact that it's a sports car, well, so?"

"So? How about everyone's gonna think my partner is on the take?"

Blair took the rest of Jim's roll out of his hand moments before it was popped into Jim's mouth, then popped it into his own. As he chewed, he said, "Very funny, Jim. Very funny."

"daddy, don't eat with your mouth full." "Jake, I should eat some other way? And did you just speak with your mouth
full?"

Jake giggled, then said, "um - yup!"

Their waiter appeared bearing food, and for the next several minutes, silence reigned while they enjoyed their steaks. Jim almost purred over his New York steak, while Blair hummed over each bite of his salmon steak. Jake slathered his hamburger steak in ketchup and stole croutons from his parents. He also dipped into Jim's baked potato, tried some of Blair's Potatos Anna, but always returned to his own french fries.

They ate hungrily and silently, but finally as Jim was finishing the last of steak, he said out of the clear blue, "What's amazing is that you could get the built-in car seat in a sports model."

Blair picked up the converstation as if had been going on since the meal started. "Not so surprising. This is Volvo, after all."

"True. But I get my truck first."

"By three days, Jim."

"Hey, three days is three days, Chief."

Jake snuck another crispy potato Anna from Blair's plate, then asked innocently, "so now we go get the chrismassy tree?"


"too small."

"I agree, Jake. Too small. And not enough branches. Okay, how 'bout this one?" Blair asked hopefully.

They were walking down the sawdust covered ground examining trees with more care than they'd given the cars, but Jake continually shook his head. Either the tree was too small, or too crooked or too thin, or too thick or smelled wrong or didn't smell at all.

Jake shook his head after sniffing the offering. "cherry's tree smells goooood. we havta have one that smells bedder!" he proclaimed.

Blair shoved Jim ahead and hissed, "Use every sense you have, man, and find him the tree!"

As he watched Jim head out, nose in the air, he had to admit to himself that the one good thing to come out of the Santa robberies had been the ability to decide how to celebrate Christmas.

Like Makeba and Terry, the Ellison-Sandburgs had decided to get the tree rather than let Santa bring it. They also had explained to Jake that Santa didn't bring all the presents because the family would give each other gifts and those would go under the tree before Christmas. Jake had loved the idea as much because it was what he knew from Cherry and because it came from his parents.

Which brought them to now, and the most difficult part of Christmas; picking the right tree.

A yell from Jim alerted both Blair and Jake that maybe, just maybe, Jim had found it.

Rushing to his side, and not a little breathless, Jake's eyes widened. He stepped up tentatively and sniffed, then moved to the back of the tree and sniffed again. He ran small fingers almost lovingly over the soft green needles, then sighed blissfully.

"you found it, my jimmy, you found it!"

Blair glanced upward and said softly, "Thank you God."


The tree, at least to Blair, appeared to be nearly perfect. It stood seven feet high, was beautifully proportioned, and even better, smelled delicious. He looked around, found one of the teens dressed as an elf, and waved him over.
"We'll take this one."

"Would you like it flocked?" the elf asked, only slightly bored.

"fluked?" Jake asked, puzzled.

"They can make it look as though there were snow on the tree, Hoss."

"snow?"

Blair suddenly got an inspiration. "Listen, can you do the partial flocking? You know, where the snow is resting only on the top of the branches?"

"Yeah, sure, we can do that. Only cost you fifteen extra too."

"Then do it. That way, we get the best of both worlds. A green tree, but with a smattering of snow. How does that sound, Jake?"

"purrrrr-fect!"

"Okay, this will take about twenty, but you can take the little one over to the other side. We have a pony ride."

Jim looked at the teen elf and said, "You just had to say that, didn't you?"

"Yes, sir," the young man said with a smile.

"horsey ride, let's go, daddy!" Jake began to tug at his fathers.


"but what 'bout my nomi?" Jake asked as they walked across the tree lot towards the tent and the ponies.

"She has her tree, Jake. Simon got it for her and you'll get to see it on Monday, okay?"

"kay, daddy, but i bet it isn't as bestest as ours!"

"I bet you're right," Jim stated with a smirk.

At that moment, Jake spotted the circular pen and the horses. He broke away from his fathers and ran toward the irresistable sight. Jim and Blair wisely hurried their footsteps.

Once up to the cashier, Blair forked over the two dollars and Jake, along with several other children, ran inside. Blair and Jim followed, and once Jake had picked out the horsey, Blair hefted him up and settled him in.

"Okay, you hold on here, this is called the pommel and your feet go here, in the stirrups. When the others are ready, the horses will start to go walk around. Okay?"

"'kay!" His eyes were shining and his hand was petting the beatiful black and white pony. As more children took to their saddles, Jake cooed, petted and stroked, almost disbelieving that this was a real horse. It was so much smaller than the one at Halloween, at the carnival.

Eventually, all the children were ready and Blair stepped to Jim's side as the horses started trotting.

"daddy, my jimmy, lookee, i'm riding!"

Jim gave him a thumbs up and Blair grinned broadly.


"Well, do you like it so far?"

"God, Valerie, this is wonderful. You've captured them like I would never have believed possible."

"Well, those pictures you brought worked wonders. How do you like that one?" Valerie Hernandez pointed at the small painting that sat on the worktable.

"Even more astounding. You've never met him and yet, you've managed to catch his
impishness, his personality, his love and joy... it's all there. Thank you, Val."

Naomi wrapped her arms around her friend of over thirty years. "They're going to be so surprised."

"I hope they love them, Naomi. Artwork can be tricky."

"But you're a wonderful artist, Valerie! I still can't believe you've actually left law to do this. You're finally following your dream."

Valerie hugged her friend back and gazed at the still unfinished drawing of Naomi's son and his partner. She thought it was good, one of her best, but she'd never been a very good judge. And the painting of Naomi's grandson -- well, that had been truly inspired, not only by the picture Naomi had supplied, but also by all the stories Naomi had shared.

Valerie grinned and said, "Dreams are good things, living them is even better."

"I couldn't agree more," Naomi said, her eyes watering as she looked at her friend's work. "You're so talented, Val. I can't wait until the showing."

"Well, that's not until Spring, and I hope I have a body of work that will do justice to Beth's faith in me. Speaking of which, I'll understand if you decide, or rather if your son decides, not to let me show these--"

"Don't be silly, Val. We'd all be honored. When the time comes, these will hang with all your others."

"Love you, Naomi! And speaking of love, who was that handsome hunk with the Christmas tree at your place the other day?"

"Oh, that was my son's boss, Captain Simon Banks."

"Simon? Strong name. Strong man. And the way he looked at you--"

"Valerie, don't let your artists imagination run away with you."

"Who, me?"


"Well, maybe over there, to the right? What do you think, Hoss?"

Jake stepped back from his position at the bottom of the tree and gazed up to the spot Jim was pointing out, then he glanced to where Blair was holding the ball. "um... maybe - there?" he said, pointing out an altogether different
spot. A better spot.

"You know," Blair mused, "I do believe our son has chosen the absolute bestest branch for this ball." With those words, Blair hung the jaguar ball exactly where Jake indicated.

Jake nodded happily and immediately went back to hanging balls in places that he could reach. They'd already strung the lights and garland and with just a few more balls to go, they'd be done, except for the guardian angel. She'd go on last, taking her place at the top of the tree, and she would be placed by Jake.

A fire crackled merrily, and with the liquid lights adorning the window and the lit candles, the house looked warm, inviting and very seasonal. Jake was in his pj's, his fathers in comfortable sweats. On the coffee table sat mugs of hot chocolate, accompanied by a large bowl of popcorn.

Jake backed up, his box of balls completely gone. A moment later, Jim did the same and finally Blair.

"Well, the only thing left is this," Blair said, holding up the angel.

Jake never even hesitated; he simply held up his arms. Jim lifted him while Blair stepped up on the thick step ladder. Once in position, Jim handed over his charge. With a little manueveringj, and Jim standing guard, Jake, with his father's help, put the angel in her place. Blair handed Jake down, followed him and all three stepped back to gaze at their creation.

"wow," Jake said, pure, innocent wonder in his voice.

"Yeah, wow," Jim and Blair intoned. Then Blair started to turn out the house lights. When the last one was off, Jim plugged in the tree lights.

Jake gasped in delight and clapped his hands as the tree came to life with twinkling lights. "daddy, jimmy, it's beeeeeeu-ti-ful!"

"The bestest?" Jim asked with a grin.

"the ab-so-lut-leeeee bestest!"

While Jake and Blair sat down and continued to ooh and ahh, Jim turned on the stereo and Christmas music filled the air. He took his place beside Blair, and while Jake settled happily between them, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer played on the stereo.

Outside, the courtyard twinkled as merrily as their tree, and the cold clear night sky, filled with stars, promised a cold and possibly white Christmas in Cascade.


The partnership of Ellison and Sandburg had put in for the week before Christmas and up to the twenty-seventh. With Jim's seniority and a history of working the holidays, Simon had happily granted the vacation for both men. Jake was ecstatic. Especially since the vacation days allowed for more shopping, more working and earning money. It also gave Naomi the time she needed to shop and get together with her friends.

Jim's father and brother arrived home from England as promised and the planned dinner was scheduled for Wednesday, the twentieth. Which still left plenty of time for Blair to acquaint his SO and son with their Chanukah duties.

By the time the twentieth rolled around, Jake had purchased Cherry's gift; a baby stoller for her *Susie Crybaby* doll, But he was still stumped on what to get Corky. He really hoped that today, Corky's big brother, Bobby, brought him over, he'd be able to get some ideas. And that should be any minute because Corky was already late.

Cherry had already arrived, and while they played, both kept a sharp eye out for their friend.


"DADDY! DADDY!"

The panicked yell was followed by the sound of the screen door slamming, nearly dislodging the holiday wreath.
The slamming door was followed by the pounding herd of what could only be elephants as they stormed into the living room.

The urgent cry from his son galvanized Blair. He jumped up from behind his computer and rushed to his son's side,
followed closely by Jim, who burst out from the kitchen. Blair came around the corner and skidded to a halt as three anguished faces looked up at him.

"Jake? What is it, buddy?"

As Blair questioned his son, Cherry, sobbing uncontrollably and threw herself into Jim's arms. He immediately picked her up and said, "What's going on here, guys?" Jim was shocked to find not one, not two, but three teary-eyed four year olds in his home.

Jake stood in front of his father, blue eyes flashing with both anger and hurt. Behind him stood Corky, whose own eyes were brimming with moisture.

"corky's brother said, he said, and he made cherry cry and he said, daddy, you gotta tell him, you gotta tell him now, and tell corky and cherry too and tell them the truth, okay, you have to!"

"Okay, calm down and tell me what happened. What do I have to tell everyone?"

"bobby said - he said," Jake's voice lowered dramatically as Cherry covered her ears. "he said there was no - santy, daddy. you havta tell him - now. and cherry and corky too!"

Blair gazed at his son, then at the small redhead behind him. Scratching the back of his neck, he exchanged "what do we do now" looks with his partner. Jim shrugged while rubbing soothing circles of comfort over Cherry's back.

Sighing, Blair walked to the front door, and opening the screen, he stepped out and checked the courtyard. Sure enough, Bobby Patterson, Corky's older brother, was sitting on the grass, his back against a tree, a book in his lap. He was rubbing his shin.

"Bobby? Could you join us a moment?"

The long-suffering thirteen year old grumbled a bit but stood and started over. As he approached, he mumbled, "Jake kicked me, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair stepped aside, allowing Bobby to enter. As he did, he glared at his son who stuck out his chin and said, "he 'served it. he made cherry an corky cry."

As the door shut behind him, Blair faced Jake and said, "You know what to say to Bobby, don't you, son."

The little boy ducked his head, but at a nudge from Jim, he glanced back up. With
more spunk than wisdom, Jake announced, "i can say i'm sorry, but - i won't mean it." Then he added angrily, "and there is too a santy claus!"

Remembering something he'd heard that morning on the radio, Blair picked up the miserable Corky, and with a nod, indicated that Jake and Bobby should follow him. He lead the troop to his computer and sat down, Corky on his left knee. Jim positioned another chair beside him and settled Cherry on his lap.

Bobby, thrilled by Blair's computer, took his place behind the detective, while Jake stood off to the side, frowning.

Blair held his hand out and wiggled his fingers in an attempt to entice Jake to his side. Jake's lower lip trembled a bit, but he couldn't meet his father's steadfast gaze. He shook his head sadly.

"Jake, come on. I want to show you and the others something very important."

Slowly Jake crawled onto Blair's lap. Smiling, Blair turned his attention to the computer screen as he exited out of one program and went to his search engine. As he typed, http://www.noradsanta.org/, he asked, "Bobby, do you know what NORAD is?"

"Yes, learned it in school. And I watch Stargate SG-1 every Friday night."

"Okay, tell us about it. Um, about NORAD, not Stargate."

"NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command and it's a joint defense project between Canada and the United States. It's in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Stargate SG-1 is filmed in Canada, but they pretend they're in Colorado."

Blair's fingers flew across the keys as he quizzed, "You trust NORAD, Bobby?"

"A'course."

"Well then, you should be very interested in this."

A moment later, a picture of the world as seen from space appeared on the screen, and orbiting the world - Santa Claus.

Blair clicked at the bottom of the screen and moments later the insignia for NORAD appeared. "You see, kids, NORAD tracks Santa every year. This way we can all make sure Santa's on track and they can even warn him of bad weather."

Blair pointed to the screen and as another picture of Santa Claus came up, Cherry started clapping her hands happily. Sniffling, Corky smiled tremulously as he gently traced the happy, bearded face of Santa. He then gazed joyfully at his best friend.

"you were right, jakey. you were right."

Chest puffed out, Jake nodded sagely, saying, "my daddy knows everything."

Bobby's own eyes were glued to the screen as he took in every word. "You mean," he breathed out, "there really is a Santa Claus?"

"Yep, Bobby, there is. Would NORAD put this up if he didn't exist?"

"Wow, I guess not, Mr. Ellison."

"Blair, do me a favor and take these three back outside and explain the whole time thing and Santa while I show Bobby something, okay?"

Nodding wisely and figuring that he knew exactly what Jim needed to show Bobby, Blair stood with Corky still in his arms. Jim let a now deliriously happy Cherry down, and Jake took her hand as Blair led them outside.

"Bobby, sit down, we need to have a few words, okay?"

With some trepidation, Bobby Patterson sat down, but took a chair three away from Jim. "Sir?"

"Bobby, how many other brothers and sisters do you have?"

"Two older sisters. Both are in college but will be home tomorrow."

"I see. So really, it's just you and Corky, isn't it? And of course, Corky is so much younger, right?" At Bobby's nod, Jim went on. "So I bet it gets tough, having to watch out for him and to take him places when you'd probably rather be with your own friends, right?"

"Oh, yeah," Bobby said, glad that Detective Ellison understood.

"Do you love Corky, Bobby?"

Puzzled, the teenager stared at Jim for a moment, then shrugged. "Sure, I guess so. Yeah, I love the little rugrat."

"Then take care of him, Bobby. He's only four, and right now, you're his whole world. He thinks you're the best thing since sliced bread. And brothers, well, they need to watch out for each other, take care and protect each other. Do you understand?"

"Yeah, I guess I do. I shouldn't have teased him or Jake, or Cherry, should I?"

"No, no you shouldn't have. In a few years, Bobby, you'll be going away to college and believe me when I tell you, you're gonna miss that little boy, a whole lot. Let him love you, okay? Take care of him and defend him. You think you can do that?"

Suddenly looking serious, Bobby nodded. "I can do that, sir. I will do that."

Smiling, Jim turned to the computer and said, "You have one at home, son?"

"Sure do, but not as good as this Compaq."

"Well, when you get Corky home, you can show him this." Jim then took a few moments to show Bobby Patterson what else NORAD offered to young Santa believers.


Blair stood before the closet trying to choose a shirt. As he moved hangers, he said over his shoulder, "So you straightened out young Bobby?"

"Oh, yeah. I think he'll take care of Corky from now on."

Blair pulled out his blue chambray shirt and with a disgusted sigh, laid it out on the bed. "And of couse, if he slips up, Jake will kick his butt from here to Tacoma."

Chuckling, Jim stepped into his slacks, zipped up, then threaded the belt through. When Blair picked up the shirt and hung it back in the closet, Jim said, "What are you doing? That shirt is fine."

"Yeah, maybe, but this is your dad and our first real - you know - family meal with him. I want to make a good impression."

"Well, I'll be damned, you're nervous."

"So what if I am?"

"I just think it's - cute."

"I hate you, Jim."

Smiling, Jim said, "Just put on the blue one and don't worry about it."

Blair reached for the blue shirt.


"this is where you lived, jimmy?"

Jim glanced out through the windshield to gaze up at his home. "Uh, yeah, but it never looked like - this - when I lived here."

This was a decorated home. Lights trimmed the house and styrofoam candy canes led guests up the walkway that led to the door. On the porch itself, a huge plastic lit Santa waved and welcomed anyone who visited. On the door, a huge wreath, lit with small white lights, twinkled merrily, and in the front window, a Christmas tree.

Jim and Blair climbed out of the Volvo, and while Blair got Jake out of his carseat, Jim reached back to grab the festively wrapped bottle of wine he'd brought. They started forward and Jim couldn't help but shake his head in wonder. What the heck had gotten into his father, anyway?

They walked up the brick walkway and as they reached the front door, it was opened by a grinning William Ellison.

"Welcome!" he exclaimed almost shyly.

"Come on in, and Jake, wait til you see what Steven and I bought you from England."


The souvenir from England had Jake mesmerized. It was an old fashioned wooden hand painted top. With infinite patience, William had shown him how to wrap the string around the top, then to pull it and send the top spinning across the floor. Jake then ran after it, squealing in delight. As soon as the top spun out, he'd pick it up and race back to his "gampa", and together, they'd set it going again.

Jim and Steven sat stunned. Who'd taken their father and replaced him with this clone?


The whole meal had been designed with Jake in mind, which of itself was strange enough. No meal in the Ellison household had ever revolved around Jim and Steven. Tonight, Sally had outdone herself with spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread and a green salad with tons of croutons. Jake was in seventh heaven.

As he twisted a huge pile of noodles onto his fork, noodles liberally coated with parmshawn, William asked, "So, have you written to Santa yet, Jake?"

Looking up from his noodle-wrapping task, Jake said happily,"no, but we're gonna do it tomorrow, after we light the ... men-o-rah. we have blue and white candles and they're in the 'frigerator right now cause they have to light and not... and not--"

"Flicker, Jake," Blair supplied.

"yup! they mustn't flicker. an afterword, we email santy!"

William glanced over at his son, then at Blair. "So you're celebrating both?"

Sounding a bit defensive, Jim answered. "Yeah, Dad, we are. We think--"

William held up a hand and said, "I understand and applaud your choice. I'd love to see a photo of the three of you
celebrating Chanukah."

"I--"

Jim, stumped by his father's acceptance, started to say something, but Blair jumped in, quick to see his partner's discomfort.

"We'll make sure and take a picture, William. It's a great idea to capture Jake's first Chanukah. And we're certainly going to take loads of photos of Christmas morning."

William lifted his wine glass and held it up. Steven, Sally, Jim, and Blair held up theirs. Jake, not to be left out, lifted his small glass of milk.

As they clinked glasses, William said, "Here's to Christmas, Chanukah and family."

'"an don't forget kwanza!"

"Oh, right, Jake, we mustn't forget Kwanza."


"You know, son, I've been thinking, how would you, I mean, maybe this Christmas, maybe Steven, Sally and I should, well--"

Jim grinned. "Dad, just say it."

"I'd love to see Jake enjoying Christmas and Chanukah--"

Jim turned and faced his father. They were on the patio overlooking the backyard because William, now that Sally was his wife, no longer indulged in his pipes indoors. As Jim looked at his father, the older man took the pipe and tapped it on the railing, his face flushing in the dark.

"Dad, are you saying that you'd like to join us for Christmas?"

"Well, yes. Next Christmas, things will be different, what with Steven being married by then. Right now, he's feeling pretty low, what with being here and his fiancee back in London, so yes, I think the real family this year is - well, at the Anjasmayo, and I'd love to spend Christmas with you."

Jim stepped forward and placed a hand on his father's shoulder. "Dad, we'd love to have all of you over on Monday. And I know Jake desperately wants you to see the tree, and well, the idea that you'll be there at sunset... Blair will like that."

"Thank you, son. Thank you for understanding."

"Why don't you all plan to arrive for brunch and we'll spend the day together, light the Menorah at sunset and then sit down to Christmas dinner?"

"Sounds perfect, son."


"My, our Christmas is growing almost as much as our Thanksgiving did, Jim."

Jim turned from the dresser and asked, a bit worriedly, "You don't mind, do you? Nothing really changes, except that we have three more guests--"

Hiding his grin, Blair said matter-of-factly, "You need to order a bigger roast."

Smiling, Jim nodded. "So you don't mind?"

Realizing that he had to give his answer a second time, Blair walked up behind the vulnerable man and put his arms around him, then rested his head against the broad back and said, "And people call you a detective. Umph."

"I just wish I understood my father. I mean, who was that man tonight."

"That was a man who's trying to recapture what he lost. He wants his sons, and his grandson, in his life. And he wants the kind of life he missed the first time around."

Jim turned in Blair's arms and stared down at the man who owned his heart. He traced a finger down the strong jaw and said, "Chief, he could have had it all along--"

"Hey, you could have had me all along."

"How the hell does that relate to--"

"Like father, like son?" Blair suggested helpfully, one eyebrow waggling.

Jim breathed out through his nose and shook his head as Blair's cleverness ambushed him - again. "You're a menace, Sandburg."

Looking askance, Blair said, "And I thought I was... sexy."

"That too, that too."

Jim leaned down and kissed his sexy, menacing partner. When they parted and he'd buried his nose in Blairhair, he murmured, "I have you now, Chief... I have you now."


"How many times has he asked so far?"

Jim glanced up from his wrapping and said, "Seven."

Blair and Jim were in the dining room wrapping the gifts for their friends while Jake played outside, bundled up like eskimo against the December cold. Every few minutes he'd come racing in, bringing the cold with him, and ask, 'is it sunset yet?' and Blair would have to tell him no, not yet. Then he'd race back out, pausing at the small table by the window to stroke the Menorah before running back outside.

"You haven't shown him his yamulka yet, have you?"

"No, I thought I'd save that as a surprise."

"And the gelt?"

"All wrapped up and ready. Naomi is making her latkes, we have the applesauce and sour cream, and she's leaving out the onions for Jake's sake. The donuts are done, so we're set."

"Yeah, if only sunset would come. Jake is driving me crazy," Jim said, laughter in his voice.

"Only two more hours, Jim."


Jake stood by the table shifting from foot to foot, eager to get started, eager to help light the first candle for Chanukah. The candles had been removed from the freezer and now sat in their place, the shammash the only candle standing taller than the others.

"da-deeeeee," he whined, trying to hurry his father with his tone. Naomi came up behind him and laughing, wrapped her arms around him and said, "Patience, young man, your daddy is almost ready."

"o-kaay, but--"

"No but's, Jake, here I am. We're ready."

Jake turned at his father's voice and grinned. "yippee! it's 'bout time!"

Blair stepped forward and held out a small black item, saying, "Jake, this is called a yamulka and it's a hat--"

Eyes wide, Jake reached out and took it, then interrupted his father. "my nomi told me, she told me! i get to wear one too, daddy?"

"You sure do, as does Jim." Blair placed the one remaining in his hand on his head and Jake did the same. Jim came out of the kitchen and picked his up from the dining room table, put it in place and joined his family.

Blair moved to the table and lifted the shammash. "Now, Jake, I'm going to recite three blessings and I will say them in Hebrew and English, so that you can understand what I'm saying, okay?"

"'kay!"

"Now remember, the candles on the Menorah are for pleasure only and we don't use them for light or any other purpose--"

"yup! that's why you use the... shama... sham-mash!"

"Exactly. Tonight, we rededicate ourselves and we give thanksgiving for the miracles of our ancestors. Do you remember which candle we light tonight?" Jake pointed happily at the one on the far right.

"You got it, Hoss. And I think it's time to start. You ready?"

"forever!"

Jake moved to stand in front of his father, Jim to Blair's left and Naomi to his right. Blair lit the shammus candle and placed it in its holder, then he began to recite....

"Baruch ata Hashem, Elokenu melech ha'olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel chanuka."

He immediately repeated the blessing in English.

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the chanuka lights."

Blair's voice was low and beautiful as, back in Hebrew, he said the second blessing.

"Baruch ata Hashem, Elokenu melech ha'olam, she'asah nisim la'avotenu, bayamim hahem bazeman hazeh. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has doen miracles for our fathers in days gone by, at this time."

As the words surrounded them, and Blair's voice wove its spell, Jim found himself watching Jake, who stood solemnly by his father, listening to the strange, powerful and beautiful words, his eyes shining.

"Baruch ata Hashem, Elokenu melech ha'olam, shehecheyanu, vekiyemanu vehigi'anu lazeman hazeh. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has given us life, and has sustained us, and has brought us to this time."

As Blair finished, Jim, as earlier discussed, lifted Jake. Blair took the shammash, and with Jake's hand on his, they lit the one on the far right. As promised, the candle burned pure, bright and unflickering.

Jim set Jake back down, and as his feet hit the floor, Jake said in awe, "can we go outside and look? pleeeeze?"

"Of course, let's go."

Blair grabbed Jake's jacket, bundled him into it, and together, everyone stepped outside to stand before the window.

"it's beeee-u-tiful!"

"Even more so on day eight, when they're all lit, welp."

"yup!"


Jake sat back and patted his tummy, then declared, "i be stuffted!"

"I should think so, Hoss. Three latkes, your salad, and now two donuts and hot chocolate."

Blair grinned at his son, then the grin widened as he noted Jim's unfastened belt. "You know, Jake, me thinks you're not the only one who is stuffted. Jim looks a little bigger in the tummy too."

"He's not alone, sweetie. I'm stuffted too." Naomi exclaimed.

"an you're stuffted too, daddy!" Jake challenged, giggling.

"Who me?"


Naomi had gone home, the house was locked up tight, and Jim and Blair were ready to turn in for the night. Arm in arm, they walked down the hall. Tightning his arm around Blair's waist, Jim said, "I wish I had the verbal ability to tell you what tonight meant to me. How you looked and sounded, what it felt like to watch you and Jake light the first candle--"

"I think you're doing just fine, Jim.
And I feel the same way about you, about sharing this with you. By the way, you look pretty sexy in a yamulka."

"Ditto, Chief, ditto. And were we just sacriligeous?"

"No, just honest."

They passed Jake's room and both immediately stopped, grinned at each other, then backed up and pushed open the bedroom door. Stepping quietly inside, they stood by Jake's bed and watched him sleep.


"but how does santy find me? how does he find our house, daddy?"

Jim, Blair and Jake were all sitting around the kitchen table, wrapping last minute gifts, when Jake dropped his bombshell. The dreaded, *how does Santa know where I live* bombshell.

"Um, well, you know, that's a Jimmy question."

Jake's head whipped around and he fastened his worried gaze on his Jimmy.
Who frowned. Coughed. Cleared his throat, and finally said, "Well, in the old days, he had this big map, and a good memory. But nowadays, NORAD helps him. He also has an onboard navigational system and he has every child marked, so all he has to do is let the system guide Rudolph and the other reindeer."

Jake frowned, his tongue slipping out of the left corner of his mouth, then he grinned. "'kay!" He went back to wrapping the special toy police car he'd gotten for Corky.

Blair gave Jim thumbs up.


The next two days slipped by with the evenings spent celebrating Chanukah and the days doing last minute shopping, wrapping, and keeping one very excited four year old calm. Or at least as calm as possible.

On Saturday, both Jim and Blair took some time out to do their own last minute shopping, separately, leaving the other in charge of the hyperactive Jake.

For Jim, the gift for Blair was easy. He'd known the direction he'd wanted to go so all he had to do was check out a few odd jewelry stores. Which turned out to be almost as fun as knowing what he was looking for. In the third store, one specializing in native jewelry, he found it.

Barely concealing his joy, he handed over his Visa. Five minutes later he walked out, gift in hand, box included. And they'd wrapped it for him.

Blair was having a bit more difficulty. He too had the item in mind, but finding it was proving to be tricky. And he too was haunting the jewelry stores.

Two years previously, Blair had been helping Jim rearrange his bedroom and in removing the dresser drawer, a wooden men's cufflink case slipped out and hit the floor. It had opened, and consequently spilled out the cuff links, tie clasps, and a single - gold - band.
Blair had held it up, and Jim, barely giving it a glance, had said, "My wedding ring."

Sandburg had studied it, surprised to find a design around the otherwise simple band. "Carolyn chose well, Jim. This is beautiful."

"No, I chose it. Hers too. But she never wore it. She wasn't into showing the marriage by wearing a ring."

Stunned, Blair had said, "You're kidding? Did you wear yours?"

"Of course. It meant a great deal to me - in the beginning."

Until that moment, Blair had never considered Jim the ring-wearing type. He should have known better.

As Jim shoved the nightstand to the corner, he'd asked, "What about you, Chief? Would you go the ring bit?"

"You mean if I were to marry?"

"No, stupid, I mean when you pierce your nose."

"Ha-ha," Blair sing-songed. But then he got serious as he gently placed the ring back in the box. "I don't honestly know. Guess it would depend on who I married. But I admit, I've always been the bracelet type myself."

"Left wrist, naturally."

"Naturally."

They'd laughed and finished the room, but Blair had never forgotten. Now he was searching for the perfect ring. Not the typical wedding ring, the one Jim had chosen for himself had shown him that much, but rather, something more - unique. Praying hard, he entered another store.

And found it.

Fifteen minutes later, hand patting his pocket, he left the store, his step considerably lighter.


"so unca simon is coming too, jimmy?"

"Yep, he is. And your grandfather, Sally and Uncle Steven."

"and a'course, my nomi."

"Naturally."

"so maybe they should all -- spend the night?"

Jim, sitting on Jake's bed and helping him wrap his gift to his daddy, ruffled
the boy's hair and said, "But then there'd be no room for Santa to come
down the chimney and put his presents under the tree."

"oh. 'kay."

Jake seemed a bit crestfallen and while he unstuck tape from his fingers and tried to stick it on the brightly colored foil wrapping paper, Jim said thoughtfully, "Of course, with everyone arriving around twelve, it means you get two Christmases. When you wake up, we'll make the orange rolls you love so much, and hot chocolate, then open all our gifts to each other and from Santa. But later, when everyone arrives, we'll have brunch and then you'll get to open even more stuff."

"more?"

"Well, sure. You'll have your nomi's gifts to open and your grandfather's and Cherry's and Corky's and--"

Jake interrupted with an awestruck "wooooow!"

"Yeah, I think wow covers it, Hoss."

With Jim making the bow and putting the final touch on Jake's gift to his father, Jake said with great solemnity, "i can do - two chrismassies."

"Kinda though you could, Hoss."


"did you know i get two chrismassies, daddy?"

"You do?" Blair said as he handed a bright gold bow to his son, who was now wrapping his Jimmy's gift.

"yup! we have one chrismassy when i wake up, which is gonna be earleeeeee and the other one when my nomi and unca simon and grampa and unca steven and sally come over. and why isn't daryl coming, daddy?"

"Oh, well, he's spending Christmas with his mother. Remember, Uncle Simon is divorced and Daryl splits the holidays between his dad and mother. But he kind of gets two Christmases too because he'll be here for Kwanza and New Year's. They'll celebrate and open their presents then."

"oh, okay then." He turned the wrapped gift around and added, "how does
it look, daddy?"

"It looks beautiful, Hoss. Jim will love it. Now all we have to do is wrap Naomi's, okay?"

"'kay! how many more days til christmassy, daddy?"

"Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, Jake. So not too much longer."

"the night they found the manger, uh?"

"Yep."

"and santy comes tomorrow night, but not til i'm asleep, right?"

"Right."

"so if i go to bed now, will it be chrismassy?"

Laughing, Blair said, "Nope. If you go to sleep now, it will only be December twenty-fourth when you wake up."

"oh shoot. so tomorrow, i'll go to bed earleeee."

"Sounds like a plan, Hoss."


Christmas Eve day rolled around cold and threatening snow. Both Jim and Blair had decided not to tantalize Jake with the promise of a white Christmas, but after listening to the weather report, they almost changed their minds.

They'd hoped for a quiet Christmas Eve day, but as so often happens in police work, an emergency had put Major Crime Christmas party on hold.

The emergency in question had kept officers and detectives alike on a holding pattern at Pier 23 while several DEA agents tried to smoke out a handful of Columbian drug runners attempting to get their product into Canada. By the time the whole fiasco was concluded and the baddies arrested, it was too late for the party.

As weary detectives had finished up their reports, they'd all decided that they would meet up early mid-day on the twenty-fourth at Pat and Kelly's Pub, lift a few, and exchange gifts.

Dropping Jake off at the loft, Jim and Blair headed over to the pub, exchange gifts on the seat between them. Walking into the Pub, they were stunned when they were greeted by yells of "Where's Jake?"

Shutting the door on the cold, blustery Cascade morning, they handed off their gifts and spent the next fifteen minutes explaining Jake's whereabouts.

Pat Callahan, the pub owner, welcomed the two detectives, the last to arrive, with hot coffees. Pat, a retired cop, had, with his wife Kelly, opened the pub five years ago, and today had offer to open for their friends in Major Crime - who kept the pub hopping under normal conditions. Both Callahans had added a few extra decorations, just for the MC gang, and against the far wall had set up a simple snack buffet as well as a table for gifts.

Once Jim and Blair had settled in, the party took off. Food was consumed, the gang caught Jim and Blair up on the week's arrests and finally, Simon took his place by the gift table and started calling off names. As was their tradition, the MC crew indulged in the 'Santa buddy', which meant that everyone pulled a name out of Ronda's Santa bowl and that person became the receipient of the gift.

Once Simon had handed out all the gifts, everyone started opening. Some gifts were gag (always safe when you didn't have a clue), but most were struggled over and purchased with much teeth gnashing. As Megan opened hers from Jim,
she gave out with an uncharacteristic screech that managed to drown out the Christmas music.

"I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DID THIS, ELLISON!" She then held up the vintage record album for everyone to see. "Where did you find it? I've been looking forever -- and vinyl? This is incredible, Jimbo."

"You can thank Mr. Hacker over here," Jim said as he pointed to Blair. "He
showed me how to spend countless hours searching the net for that thing. But I have to admit, Conner, your choice in music is primo."

Megan ran her hand over the cover of the album, an old Duke Ellington, and sighed happily. Sometimes, Jim Ellison was a bit of all right.

Joel unwrapped his and discovered that Blair had been his Santa buddy. He held up the first edition of African-American written poetry and grinned his appreciation. "How did you know, Blair?" "Ruthie told me. You like?"

"You kidding? This is perfect. Thank you."

Blair opened his, from Rafe, and hooted with laughter. Everyone stopped and waited, so Blair held the box up.

"Chocolate Meadow Muffins from Minnesota."

Rhonda wrinkled her nose as she tried to figure out what meadow muffins were. Finally she asked, "I've never heard of Meadow Muffins, Blair. Can you buy them at a regular candy store?"

Henri leaned over and whispered something in her ear. She immediately blushed, which set everyone off into gales of laughter. Before Rhonda could lecture Rafe, the young man said, "Check under, Sandburg."

Blair lifted the confection tray out of the box and found the hidden envelope. He quickly opened it and pulled out three tickets. Three tickets to the December thirtieth performance of the Nutcracker.

"Oh, man, he's gonna love this, Rafe. You're brilliant."

"Duh."

Everyone laughed again, then turned their attention to Simon, who held up his gift, a bottle of his favorite wine, from his Santa buddy, Joel. Finally, all eyes turned to Jim, the last one to reveal his gift.

Jim had the package open but had yet to take the item out of the box. His eyes were wide, his mouth open.

With a smirk, Simon said, "Come on, Ellison, show everyone."

Jim blinked, then stared at his boss and Santa buddy. At Simon's nod and grin, Jim lifted the item out.

"Ohmygod," Blair said with a rush.

Jim shook out the shirt and seconds later everyone started clapping loudly.

The gift was a blue tee shirt and on the front, the well-known gold design with a large red S in the middle. It was a Superman shirt.


They picked Jake up and left Naomi to get ready for a party of her own to attend. As they got Jake into his car seat, he said, "i gotta go see santy, daddy, jimmy!"

Blair, in the process of putting on his seatbelt, froze. "Uh, Jake, what do you mean?"

"well, cherry said if we forget something on our list, we can go to see him at the mall. can we?"

"Did you forget something, Jake?" Jim asked, his expression clearly showing his dislike of any visit to the mall on Christmas Eve.

"well, yessss, kind of."

"We can email him again, Hoss," Jim suggested, hoping against hope that Jake would accept.

"but - then i won't never get to see santy, jimmy!"

"Oh, right. Well, it is only two... I guess we could head over...."

"Sure we can, Jim. In fact, how 'bout I take Jake inside while you wait in the truck?" Blair's voice tried to hint at his real motive and after several exaggerated winks, Jim caught on. He was supposed to listen, then go, and if possible, find the last minute item.

Oh, swell.

"O-kay, let's go, guys."


Blair held Jake's hand as they stood in line and he thanked God because it was actually quite short. There were only three small children ahead of them. For Jake's part, he kept his gaze fixed on the jolly man seated on a large gold chair and surrounded by elves.

After the child ahead of them was led to Santa, Jake tugged at his father's hand. Looking down, Blair smiled and asked, "What, Hoss?"

"he will help me, won't he? he is the real santy, right?"

Aw, God. Blair took a deep breath and said, "Sure is. Which is why he's leaving in an hour. He has to get ready for tonight."

"okay." Jake went back to gaze lovingly at the truly wonderful looking Santa and Blair blessed the Cascade Mall and their excellent attention to detail.


Jim cocked his head. It was time. He heard a female elf say, "Right this way, honey" and heard the slide of Jake's hand into the girl's, then his struggling footsteps up the steep steps and finally, the joyful "ho-ho-ho" as Santa welcomed Jake onto his lap. With fingers crossed, Jim listened.

"So, what do you want for Christmas, young man?"

"i... already, you know, emailed you?"

"You did?" Jim could hear the scratching as the Santa rubbed his beard, then said, "Of course you did, young Jake. So that means you forgot something?"

"yes, santy, i did. how do i give a toy away?"

For a moment, Jim thought maybe he'd misunderstood, but then Jake said, "see, i want to give a toy away. my daddy says there are lots of children with no daddy's and maybe they don't get very many presents, except what you bring them, and so i want to give a toy away."
At that moment, Jim would have given anything to see Santa's face. But the jolly man's next words told him that this Santa was truly a wise man.

"Well, Jake, look over there, by the See's Candy Store? Do you see the table and the two soldiers?"

Jim could imagine Jake's head swiveling around as he spied the two Marines standing in full uniform.

"i see them, i see them!"

"Well, they're here today to collect toys for children around the world, many of whom will be spending Christmas in the hospital, so I think that's what you're looking for?"

"oh, thank you, santy!"

"My pleasure, Jake. And remember, the toy you take to the soldiers? Don't wrap it, okay? The Marines will do that for you before the toys are delivered."

"'kay!"

Jim glanced down at his son's backpack, reached over, picked it up and unzipped the top.

Inside, on top of Jake's playthings for when he went to his nomi's, sat one of his newer transformers. He'd received it only two weeks ago and it was still in the box.

Jim climbed out of the truck and headed into the mall....


Blair watched Jake jump down and grinned at his surprise when an elf handed him a candy cane as she led him to the exit. Blair made his way over and picked the boy up.

"daddy, i have to get something out of the truck, 'kay? right now, 'kay?"

"Hoss, what--"

"Do you mean this, Hoss?"

Blair turned at the sound of Jim's voice, only to find his partner standing behind him and holding up Jake's new transformer.

"jimmy! that's 'xactly it! gimme, gimme--"

Jim handed over the toy, and with a look, encouraged Blair to put Jake down. Once his feet hit the floor, Jake took off.

"Uh, Jim?"

"Just follow him, Chief."

Both men hurried after their son.

Jake scampered up to the table, holding out his toy to the Marines. "you can have this, 'kay?"

One of the men knelt down and took the toy, turned it around and whistled.
"My, my, this is a great toy to give, young man. Would you like to put it in that barrel over there?"

Jake followed the soldier's look and spotting the barrel full of toys, nodded excitedly, saying, "can i, can i, all by myself?"

"You sure can."

The soldier handed back the toy and Jake immediately ran over to the gaily wrapped tub and dropped his transformer inside.

At Blair's puzzled look, Jim whispered, "I'll tell you later, Chief."


The agenda for Christmas Eve had been planned by Jake days earlier, and right after lighting the Menorah, they went to step one; dinner, which featured Jake's favorite meal of tacos.

Once dinner had been happily consumed, followed by custard pie, they went to step two; Jake's bath and changing into his Christmas pajamas, which was followed by the final phase; the official Christmas movie - or two.

Jake had watched every holiday cartoon and movie that made its appearance on the television but on the night that 'Santa Claus the Moive' aired, they were out looking at Christmas lights. Thanks
to Corky, Jake had been assured that he'd missed the bestest Christmas movie ever. So now Jim, Blair and Jake settled down with popcorn and hot chocolate, and with the Christmas lights twinkling, they watched Dudly Moore save Christmas.

At eight, a sleepy Jake was tucked into bed, Jakey the wolfpup, now sporting a red bow, placed in wiggling arms. With a yawn, Jake informed his fathers that they should go to bed now too, that santy wouldn't come til everyone was asleep. Assuring him that they would soon be following, they kissed him good-night and slipped out.

As they walked back to the living room, Blair asked, "Did we exhaust him enough to keep him down?"

"Oh, yeah. Jake's a goner."

"Well, we have some work to do then."

"Yup!"


"Jim, I'm afraid that only a five year old could put this thing together."

Jim looked up from his wrapping and had to bite back his laughter. Blair was surrounded by parts, wheels and fenders. In his left hand he held the instructions and in his right, one lone screw.

"There doesn't seem to be anyplace for this screw, Jiiim," he whined.

"Then don't worry about it, Chief."

"But...."

"But, throw out the directions and wing it."

Blair glanced at the three feet of directions (thoughtfully printed out in English, French, Spanish, German and Vietnamese), then at the car, then at his partner. He tossed the directions into the fire.

Thirty minutes later - a bright yellow and red Ferrari stood in all its glory.

"You done good, Chief."

Eyes running over the beautiful, sleek, child-size car, Blair said in wonder, "You know, I did."

"So what do we do with it now, Einstein?" Jim asked, a hint of daring in his voice.

"We wrap a nice gold ribbon around it, adorn it with a bow, hide it in our bathroom and tomorrow, we wheel it out at the last minute."

Slapping him on the back, Jim said, "Man, you are good."


Yawning, Blair stretched out on the couch and checked his watch. It was only ten. They'd finished minutes ago and were ahead of schedule. Blair had been certain that they'd be up all night finishing all the last minute stuff, but no, they were finally done and still conscious. And he had to admit, the tree definitely looked as though Santa had visited. Where before there'd only been a few gifts, there were now many surrounding the base and spilling over into the room. Blair smiled in satisfaction.

Jim dropped down beside him, careful to protect the two mugs of coffee in his hands. "Here, this will help," he said as he handed his mate a mug.

"Like I need coffee?"

"Taste it, Chief."

Blair did as requested and his face lit up. "Oh, man, you are the bestest, Jim!"
"Yeah, I know," Jim responded modestly.

"Christmas Eve, you by my side, and a hot toddy. I'm in heaven, man, I'm in heaven."

"Almost perfect, Chief."

"Almost? Almost?" Blair squeaked. "Things couldn't get better, man!"

"Oh, yeah? Watch this." Jim picked up the remote for the stereo and moments later, Frank Sinatra singing Christmas caroles, filled the air. "Okay, now it's perfect, Chief."

Blair grabbed Jim's arm and dropped it over his own shoulders. "No, now it's perfect."


Soft music, the blaze in the fireplace winding down, and only the tree lights flickering... Jim sighed. He was happy. Completely. Except....

"Blair, what do you say we each exchange one gift tonight?"

Blair, head on Jim's lap, murmured, "I was going to suggest the same thing--"

"So, you gonna get up so we can do this?"

"Do I have to? Now?"

"Yes, Jake is going to be jumping on our bodies in about five hours."

"Good point." Blair rolled onto his side and sat up, yawned and stretched, then said, "You have one great lap, Jim. You should know that."

"Well, you do spend a whole lot of time in and on it--"

Blair couldn't help it, he burst out laughing. As he tried to calm himself, Jim stood and walked to the tree. He rooted around a bit and finally found what he was looking for. He dropped down and beckoned to Blair, who got up, found his gift for Jim, and sat down beside him.

"Who goes first?"

Jim glanced from one small package to the other and suddenly he grinned. "Uh, Chief? I'm thinking we - had similar ideas?"

"Looks like. You open yours first, okay?"

Jim caught the sudden increase in Blair's breathing and the fact that his heart rate had almost doubled. Smiling gently, he said, "How 'bout we do this together?"

"Right."

Both began to open their gifts. At a soft exhalation from Jim, Blair's fingers froze and he glanced up. "Jim?"

"It's beautiful, Chief." Slowly, Jim took out the ring, a gold band with a jaguar in mid-leap etched into the metal. He turned it around and around, his eyes glistening with moisture.

"It's engraved, Jim."

At Blair's words, the older man held the ring up and read--

my holy grail

Jim choked back a sound that would have been a moan of emotion and let the ring drop into his palm, which he then held out to Blair. "Would you, Chief?"

Moving closer, Blair took the ring and slipped it on Jim's ring finger, left hand. It was a perfect fit.

"Your turn, Blair."

Blair picked up his package and finished unwrapping it. The box was only slightly larger than Jim's, and with shaking hands, Blair lifted the lid, then whispered, "You remembered."

"So did you," Jim said, flashing his ring.

Blair took out the silver ID bracelet and held it up. The flat portion that usually held a man's name, had a imbedded piece of stone and on the tan stone, a hand-painted wolf perched on an outcropping of rock, standing proud while guarding its sleeping mate.

"It's engraved, Chief."

Blair turned it over, but had to blink several times before he could read the words--

~ *blair sandburg, my brass ring ~ JE*

"We are a pair, aren't we, Jim?"

"Yep."

With fumbling fingers, Jim did for Blair, what he'd done for Jim, and finally, the bracelet was at home on Blair's left wrist.

"Merry Christmas, Jim."

"Happy Chanukah, Blair."


Jake turned over and opened his eyes. He squinted up at his window and smiled broadly.

Light. Okay, barely there light, but definitely - light. Covers were thrown off as Jake jumped up, and grabbing jakey, raced out his door and down the hall.

The door to his parents room was wide open, which was good, because he'd have barrelled through it otherwise. With a leap that would have made Baryshnikov proud, Jake lept onto his fathers bed, yelling, "merry chrismassy, merry chrismassy! wake up, daddy, jimmy! santy, we have to see if santy came!"


Blair rolled over and cracked open one eye, only to see his son, face a mere centimeter from his, grinning hugely.

"daddy, ya gotta get up, now!"

"Right, get up. I can do that."

Seeing that one father was awake, Jake turned his attention to the other by simply jumping from one warm body to the next. "my jimmy, my jimmy, wake up, it's chrismassy morning and we gotta see if santy came!"

Jim groaned, but opened his eyes and rolled over, taking Jake with him.
"I'm up, Hoss, I'm up. And where is your robe? And slippers?"

Clasping his hand to his mouth, Jake gasped, then in a twinkle, was gone, only the patter of his footsteps convincing Jim that he'd ever been there.

"Well."

Blair threw off the covers, swung his legs over, and scratching his back, said, "Yep." He then got up, fumbled his way into the bathroom, and as he closed the door, added, "Christmas morning action plan - get going, Ellison."

Rubbing his face, Jim managed to crawl out of bed and quickly step into his jeans and shirt, as laid out the night before. He sat down on the chair, put on thick socks, then stood as Blair came out of the bathroom saying, "All yours, man."

When Blair stepped past him, Jim grabbed him, kissed him, and grinning, walked into the bathroom.

"Uh, Jim? Was that in the plan?"

"No," Jim's voice came through the bathroom door, "But it should have been."

Laughing, Blair put on his jeans and sweatshirt, stepped into his loafers and by the time Jim came out, his hair had been tied back and he was ready.

"You make the hot chocolate and I'll get the tree lights and the music."

Jim saluted smartly and grinning, they headed out into the hall just as Jake raced out of his room, now clad in robe and slippers. He skidded to a stop in front of them and raised his arms. Jim scooped him up and together, they all headed to see if Santa had come.


Blair moved quickly to the tree and plugged in the lights, then opened the curtains on the front window before turning around and looking at his son.

Jake had been hiding his eyes, not sure if he really wanted to look, but at a soft, "Jake" from his father, he dropped his hands and - looked.

"ohmy."

Blair grinned at Jim, who grinned right back. It did look spectacular. Slowly, Jim lowered the boy, who stood frozen to the spot, eyes like saucers.

"he came, daddy, he came." Then he turned to Jim and said in wonder, "he came, santy came, jimmy!"

"He sure did, Hoss."

Jake moved tentatively toward the tree as Blair turned on the stereo and let their CD containing a mixure of Christmas and Chanukah music fill the air. Jake studied every package and with awe, pointed out over and over again, "that one is new, that one is new too, and daddy, that one wasn't here last night--"

"You gonna play Santa for us, Jake?"

Eyes bugging out, Jake said, "wha?"

"Well, someone has to be Santa and hand out the gifts, right?"

"can i, daddy? can i?"

"Yep and I have just the thing for you." From behind his back, Blair pulled out a red Santa cap and held it out to Jake.

"mine?"

"Well, you're our Santa, so yep, yours." Jake walked over and stood patiently while Blair fitted the hat over his head. "There. Perfect and it matches your robe too."

"Jake," Jim called.

The boy turned and smiled just as Jim took the digital picture. The flash lit up the room and Jake giggled, then jumped over to the tree and held up a gift so that Jim could take another picture, which he did.

While his resident photographer snapped away, Blair revised the schedule by quickly putting on the hot chocolate himself. Just as Jake was getting antsy to open presents, Blair entered, bearing the tray of rolls and mugs of hot chocolate. He set the tray down, then dropped beside the table and encouraged Jim to do the same.

"Okay, Jake, I think we should start opening."

Jake took a slurp of his chocolate, set his mug down with both hands, then said cheerily, "yup!"

The next two hours were a lesson for Jim and Blair. They watched their son tear into each gift and if it was an item of clothing, he'd give it the appropriate "ooh", then toss it over his shoulder and reach for another. If it were a toy or a book, the whole unwrapping process would come to a complete stop because of course, he just had to play with the toy or read the book now. He'd then have to be reminded, after Jim had taken enough pictures, to haul out another gift.

What truly amazed the two men was that he was patient enough to watch them open theirs and got just as excited over their gifts as he did for his own. As CD's, books, new truck accessories and camping equipment were revealed, or as a new leather bombing jacket for Blair and a new camel-colored coat was revealed for Jim, Jake would jump up and down as if they were the bestest toys in the world.

But the big surprise for Jake was opening his sleeping bag. He tore through the wrapping but needed some help from both his parents to get the box open. Once opened, his eyes lit up, because inside sat the exact sleeping bag he'd asked Santa to bring. A Power Ranger sleeping bag. With all of the Rangers adorning the bag.

"he brought it, daddy, and it's purrrrrfect!"

"So far, Hoss, Santa is batting a thousand."

Jake grinned happily and announced, "i'm gonna sleep in this tonight!"

Three hours after they'd started, the last present had been opened and Jake sat happily in the middle of the mess. His eyes were clamped on the stockings that hung from the mantle.

Blair, pretending that he hadn't seen the bulges, said sadly, "Too bad Santa forgot to fill the stockings--"

"but daddy, they are full! they are!"

Turning, Blair studied the stockings and scratched the back of his head. "Why, I do believe you're right, Jake. Jim, what do you think?"

"Those look stuffed to me. Let me check." With that, Jim handed off the camera to Blair and carefully took down each stocking, leaving only Naomi's up. He sat down next to Blair and handed over the heavy stocking belonging to Jake, who took it reverantly -- and quickly unended it.

Balls of all different colors and sizes, a bag of marbles, candy, puzzles and of course, the ferretball Blair had found at the swap meet, all tumbled out. Blair reached over and turned on the ferretball, then set it down and watched.

The furry animal, nose stuck to the red ball and energized by batteries, chased the ball all over the floor, tumbling over it, tail wagging and going in every direction. And Jake - Jake chased after it and giggled wildly. Sometimes, he'd stop the ferret, pick it up, feel the vibration of the humming battery, kiss the ferret, then set it back down and let it roll, with him giving a merry chase.

So far, one little boy hadn't even noticed that the biggest gift on his list hadn't been delivered by Santa. A real little boy's shiny red and yellow Ferrari. As they watched him chase the ferret and ball, Blair nodded to Jim, who said, "While you play with that, Jake, I'm going to the bathroom."

Jake, barely skipping a beat, said a happy, "'kay" then went back to
chasing.

A few moments later, Jim yelled out, "Jake, what's this?"

Jake stopped his running and tilted his head. Blair shrugged and said, "We'd best go look."

Taking his daddy's hand, they went into the hall to find Jim standing in the doorway of Jake's room.

"Why, Jim, what's up?"

"Well, take a look and you tell me." He stepped aside, barely disguising his mirth.

Jake went in and stopped dead.

There, on the other side of his bed and wrapped in a gold ribbon and bow
sat a red and yellow --a shiny red and yellow-- Ferrari. And behind the wheel; Jakey the wolfpup.

"ohmy."


The car had been ridden out by an ecstatic Jake and now sat in the living room. A plate that had, only thirty minutes ago, held orange rolls, now sat empty on the coffee table. Jim and Blair sat by the tree, Blair braced against Jim.

In the middle of what was left of Christmas morning, lay Jake. He was surrounded by paper, bows, boxes, toys, books, his race car, his sleeping bag and he was wearing his new Harry Potter tee shirt over his pajamas. Not to be forgotten among all his new toys, he had Jakey clutched to his chest. Jake was sound asleep, a huge smile on his face.

"I don't think there's ever been a happier child, do you, Jim?"

"Nope, I don't think so."

Jim fingered his ring, then cupped Blair's chin with his hand and tilted the younger man's head up until his mouth was within reach. Lowering his head and letting his lips skim Blair's, he whispered, "no happier sentinel either."

Just before the kiss became real, Blair murmured, "nor a happier superguppy."


Jake slept happily through the clean-up and Jim's continued picture taking, but at eleven, Blair finally roused him.

"Jake, kiddo, time to wake up. We'll be having company shortly and then it's time for round two."

Yawning, Jake rubbed sleepy eyes, then remembering, he turned his head and immediately relaxed as he realized that everything was real and still there. He raised his arms and Blair lifted him, then carried him into his room.

Setting him down on the bed, he said, "Okay, what do you want to wear?"

"jeans, new jeans, and this," he said, holding out his Harry Potter shirt by the hem.

"Sounds good. Okay, let's get you out of your jammies and get you ready."

As Blair undressed the still groggy child, Jake said, his voice still filled with wonder, "he really came, daddy. and he hid my car right here an i never even saw it!"

"I know, but you were kind of excited so I can see where you'd miss it."

Giggling, Jake said, "i was, wasn't i?"

"Oh, yeah. We need to bottle you, young man."

"why daddy, that's what my nomi says she used to say 'bout you!"

"I bet. Okay, come on, you're ready to greet our guests when they arrive."

Jake jumped off his bed and ran into the living room to skid to a stop in front of Jim, who was doing some last minute rearranging of opened gifts.

"how do i look, my jimmy?"

"Jake, no one looks more handsome."

"aren't you going to wear your new stuff?"

"Mmm, good point. Give us a few minutes and we'll both do just that."

"'kay, not going anywhere!"


At eleven-fifteen, Naomi knocked and wasn't surprised when Jake swung open the door.

"santy came, nomi, he came!"

Stepping inside with her bulky items, Naomi set them down beside the tree, then stepped back to look at her grandson.

"I can see that he did, Jake. And you look wonderful in your new Harry Potter shirt. Now show me everything."

And he did.


By twelve, the Ellison-Sandburg-Porter household was full, and more gifts were being opened. Most of the attention was given over to Jake as he opened this new slew of gifts with the same joy and abandon as he had previously. Only Jim sensed the one less than stellar moment in Jake's gift openings.

The moment came when Jake opened one of two gifts from his grampa. The box, once revealed, contained a pair of red pajamas - with a yellow duck - above the pocket. The pause as young Mr. Porter gazed at the duck was enough to clue Jim in on the fact that a yellow duck -- on his pajamas, was not a good thing.

Fortunately for William Ellison, his second gift was a winner. A science kit that allowed all sorts of experiments for the eager Jake. The boy oohed and aahed, and of course, wanted to do some experiments now.

It was two of Naomi's gifts that managed to be the last ones opened. One was large and square, the other half the size, but also square. Both had tags identifying them as belonging to Jim-Blair-Jake.

Everyone waited as Naomi carried them to the three, who now sat together on the floor. She let Jim take them and watched, somewhat unsure, as all three began to unwrap the smaller one first.
As what had readily taken shape as some sort of picture was revealed, three ohmys were said.

"My God, Mom. This is -- it's -- wonderful. This is why all those
get-togethers with Valerie?"

Naomi nodded shyly at her son, then she blinked back tears, the wonder on Jim's face almost undoing her.

Slowly, Jim turned the picture around for everyone to see.

It was an oil of Jake. He was wearing jeans, a red and white striped shirt and his yellow rain coat. Jake was kneeling in the middle of a large grassy area, and in his hand he held a daisy that he'd apparently just plucked. His
expression was one of pure Jakejoy. Valerie had captured not only the innocence of a child, but the wonder that the world held for Jake.

"This is beautiful, Naomi. Thank you."

"I'm glad you like it, Jim."

"but - that's me!"

"Yes, it is, Jake. My friend, Valerie, painted it. Do you like it?"

He barely touched the thick oil and said in wonder, "she colored me!"

"Yep, Hoss, she did."

"what 'bout this one, daddy?"

That turned everyone's attention to the larger picture, and no one doubted that it was a picture. Blair tore off the wrapping and once again a chorus of ohmys were said. Finally, after several minutes, the drawing, this one a charcoal sketch behind glass, was turned toward their company.

The picture seemed to give the feel of a pond or lake, with ripples extending outward, and in what was the reflection of the water, three faces seemed to float up.

Blair, Jim and Jake.

Before anyone could say anything, both Jim and Blair stood, and working together, they took the painting that hung over the mantle down and immediately replaced it with the charcoal sketch.

"How does it look?" Jim asked.

Speaking for everyone, Jake said
breathlessly, "purrrrrfect!"

They moved to the dining room and took down the picture above the sidetable, then hung up the oil of Jake.

As they stepped back, Jim mused, "Next week, I'll get a light to place over it...."

Simon gazed down at Naomi, and smiling, said, "I think they like them."


The day went remarkably fast, with everyone taking their turns playing with Jake and his new toys.

William walked around almost stunned and couldn't seem to get enough of his grandson or the many pictures Jim had taken. He was so enamored that he insisted Blair load them onto the computer and print out his copies, which Blair did, happily. Of course, once he got started, Simon needed his and Naomi needed hers and Steven needed his....

Shortly before sunset, everyone bustled happily about making sure their meal would be ready after lighting the Menorah. The table was set, the house settled and then it was time.

Simon, William and Steven stood to the left of the Menorah, while Naomi and Sally stood to the right. And as they had the first night, Jim, Blair and Jake stood directly before the small table.
All three wore their yamulkas.

The new candle was added and the shammash lit. Then, as he had on each night since the first, Blair said two of the blessings in both Hebrew and English. Then with Jake helping, the fifth candle was lit. The shammash was replaced and everyone stood a moment, in silence, watching the joyous candlelight.

As they finally stepped away, William glanced out the window and caught his breath. "It's -- snowing," he said.

The door was thrown open and everyone, heedless of the cold, hurried out into Christmas fantasy that was the courtyard of the Anjasmayo.

"Looks like we get that white Christmas after all, eh, Chief?"

With upturned face, Blair said, "Oh, yeah."

Jake stood a few feet away and just kept turning around in circles, drinking in the sight, snow gathering on his cheeks, in his hair, and on his eyelashes. He gazed at the Menorah through the flakes, then at the decorations and lights, and finally at the door that had been his gammy's.

Jim and Blair saw where his attention had been drawn and immediately hurried over. Blair scooped him up only to find him smiling. "gammy sent this, didn't she, daddy?"

Kissing the soft, only slightly chilled cheek, Blair said softly, "I do believe she did, Jake. I do believe she did."

Looking up at the sky, Jake whispered, "merry christmas and happy chanukah, gammy - and - mommy."

The End


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