Listening Between The Lines

By Annie

EMAIL: Annie

"Hey, it's no problem, Mom. I mean, it's not like we need to celebrate Christmas. I mean, we're Jewish, right?" Blair turned as he heard his partner come into the room and waved a hand in the air in greeting. He covered the mouthpiece. "It's Naomi," he mouthed.

Jim nodded, walked through to the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge, then stood with his back against the counter till Blair finished his call.

"Mom, stop it, I told you it's cool. You have a great time in Hawaii and I'll see you when you get back, okay." Blair listened for a moment. "Yeah, Happy Hanukkah and Christmas to you, Mom. I love you." He placed the receiver back into the cradle with exaggerated care and turned to look at Jim. "What?" he asked.

"Problem?" Jim said, sipping at his beer.

"No biggie. Mom can't make it to Cascade for Christmas after all, that's all. There's some new medium she thinks is the real thing. Some guy named John Edward, and he's holding a conference thing in Hawaii and she's going there. Won't be back till after the New Year. It's no big deal," he said.

"Sounds like a big deal to me," Jim observed.

He turned back to the fridge and opened it, pulling out a beer for Blair and tossing it to him.

Blair caught it handily, uncapped it and gulped down a swallow.

"When was the last time your mother spent Christmas with you?" Jim asked casually.

"I don't know. When I was a kid, I guess. We're Jewish, remember. It's really no big deal, Jim."

"Okay, what about Hanukkah then? She spent time with you at Hanukkah lately?"

Blair glowered at him. "Holidays have never meant a lot to Naomi. She thinks most of them are Capitalist plots to get the masses to spend money."

"I'd probably agree with her on that," Jim said. He drained the last of his beer and put the empty in the recyclable bin. "Still, they can also be a time for family to spend time with each other."

"Yeah, well, you'd know, Jim." Blair gulped down the last of his own drink and moved around Jim to deposit his empty in the bin too. "I mean, your family always spends those quality holidays together, right?"

"Ouch," Jim replied mildly. "Guess Naomi not being here hurts a little more than you're letting on."

"I'm sorry, man." Blair placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. "That was a low blow. I know you and Steven are working things out, and I know you're trying to sort stuff out with your dad…."

"Forget it," Jim replied easily, feeling oddly disappointed when Blair removed his hand. "As a matter of fact, things are changing in a big way in the Ellison family. Dad called me today at work and invited me to Christmas dinner. Steven and his family are going to be there too."

"Yeah? That's great, Jim." Blair smiled brightly at him, his pleasure at Jim's news plain to see. "I just knew you and your dad would work things out."

"We'll see," Jim replied. "It's just one dinner, Chief. Speaking of which, you want to call out for pizza? I really can't be bothered cooking tonight."

"Oh, no problem, Jim. I already started dinner." Blair walked across to the oven and pulled out a delicious-looking lasagne. "I figured you'd be tired after sitting in court all day, so I just made this. If you'd rather have pizza though-"

Jim started pulling out plates and cutlery. "Your lasagne beats pizza hands down, Chief," he said gratefully, going over to set the table. "Thanks, buddy. Don't know what I'd do without you."

"Ah, you'd manage," Blair replied, waving away his words with a dismissive motion of his hand.

No, I wouldn't Jim thought, watching as his friend pulled a salad from the fridge. I wouldn't even want to.

~oOo~

"So what are you going to do for Christmas?" Jim asked, trying to keep his voice casual. He smiled as Blair leaned back and rested against his shoulder.

Blair shrugged in response. "I'll find something to do. Maybe help out at one of the shelters or something."

"Yeah, but you're not going to do that all day, right? Why don't you come to my dad's with me-"

"Oh, Jim, no." Blair sat up, leaving Jim's shoulder feeling unaccountably chilled in the warm room. "This is your first family dinner in who knows how long. Besides, I'm not sure your dad likes me all that much. He might not feel comfortable having me there. I want this to go right for you, Jim. It's important."

"My dad doesn't even know you properly, Chief." Jim stood up. "I'm gonna call him, let him know that you're coming with me-"

"No way, man." Blair stood as well. "I'm not some charity case that you have to drag along with you, Jim. I'll be just fine on my own. Might be kinda fun having the loft all to myself." He gave Jim a suggestive leer.

"No parties, and no sex in the loft!" Jim warned, waggling a finger in his face.

"Fine. I'll get a motel room." Blair headed for his room. "I'm going to bed, Jim. See you in the morning."

"Blair, come on, it was a joke," Jim called after him, surprised by his partner's sudden change of mood.

"It's fine. Goodnight." Blair shut the door to his room with a finality that stopped just short of slamming.

"Okay, that went well," Jim murmured. He turned off the TV and the lights then went upstairs to his own room.

Where he stayed awake most of the night thinking about Blair. He'd felt an attraction to the young man almost the minute he met him, but he'd kept it under control, and as Blair began dating most of the female population of Cascade, it seemed, he was glad he had. He squirmed in discomfort as he imagined what would have happened if he'd tried to seduce his partner, Mr. Strictly Heterosexual Love 'em And Leave 'em Sandburg. Considering the damage Blair had shown he could do with a vending machine, Jim figured he'd be lucky if he got out of the encounter with his dick still attached to his body. Not that he figured Blair to be homophobic. Blair was way too open-minded for that, and Jim had met several of Blair's gay friends, both male and female. He sighed as he fixed his mind on not thinking about having Blair in bed with him, and gave his balls a sharp tug when his cock decided to take an interest in what he was so carefully not thinking about. Eventually he fell into a dream-filled sleep as his sub-conscious came up with various ways he could tell Blair he loved him, and emerge victorious, with his heart… and his genitalia intact.

~oOo~

"Where's Blair?" William Ellison asked as he opened the door to Jim's knock.

"He's… um… he's helping out at a shelter." Jim frowned and checked his watch. "Actually he's probably getting back to the loft about now."

"Oh, of course." William ushered Jim inside and took his coat from him, hanging it on the rack. He turned and pulled Jim into his arms, giving him a hug. "I'm so glad you came, Jim."

"Yeah, me too, Dad." Jim hugged back, hoping he was conveying all that this reunion meant to him.

"Come on through. I'll get you a drink." William pulled away and patted his back. "So, I guess Blair's mother is in town for the holiday," he said, steering Jim into the living room and over to the drinks cart.

Jim waved across the room at Steven who was talking to… Simon? "How come Simon's here?" he asked, turning back to his father and taking the glass from his hand.

"Well, Steven and I wanted this to be for you, Jimmy…. Sorry, Jim," his father corrected. "Captain Banks is your friend and I called him and he said his son was going to be with his mother for Christmas, so I asked him over for dinner." William smiled at him. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Of course not," Jim managed to say. "That's really nice of you."

"Hey, Jim, where's Sandburg?" Simon asked, coming up behind him and giving him a hearty slap on the back.

"He's at home," Jim said, gulping down a mouthful of Scotch.

"You didn't bring him?" Steven asked, moving up to stand on his other side. "The kids are going to be disappointed." He nodded his head towards the far side of the room where Jim could see Steven's wife, Mara, and his nephew, Jack, and niece, Sarah playing a board game. "I've been telling them about how Blair's been to all these places all over the world and they were really looking forward to meeting him. Jack's really into anthropology type stuff, even though he's only eight."

"Blair's mom is in town," William interjected.

"You should have brought Naomi too," Simon said, grinning. "I'm sure your dad wouldn't have minded."

"Why don't we call them?" Steven added. "I'd be glad to go pick them up."

Jim stared around at the circle of faces, wondering if he'd wandered into some strange alternate reality. "Naomi's not here," he said finally.

"I thought you said Blair was at the loft," William asked, looking puzzled.

"He is," Jim replied.

"You left your partner alone at Christmas?" Simon said, his voice accusatory. "Hey, Jim, I know I like to put on a front that Blair annoys me but… well, as your partner, he should be included for family events like Christmas."

Jim had the feeling that Simon wasn't using the word partner in the professional sense. "Um, you think Blair and I…." He cleared his throat and tried again. "Blair and I are just friends-"

"Said like a true celebrity," Steven said, clapping him on the back. "You don't have to deny it, Jim. We're cool with it, even Dad."

Jim looked at his father who shrugged. "Well, it took me a little while to get used to the idea, but then Simon explained how much Blair has done for you, how many times he's put his life on the line to help you. Even an old guy like me can recognize love when he sees it."

Jim blinked, gulped down a mouthful of his drink and coughed as he tried to swallow too fast. Simon patted his back helpfully. Finally, he gained control enough to say, "Blair's straight."

"Yeah, right," Simon said, winking and smiling broadly at him.

"What do you mean?" Jim asked.

Simon looked around as if checking that the children were still out of earshot. "He never told you the main reason he stayed in Cascade after his mom left?"

"Well, he was at uni, doing his degree-"

"Which he could have continued anywhere," Simon replied. "There was a guy he was involved with-" He stopped, fixing Jim with a firm look. "You sure he never told you he was bi?"

"He told you?" Jim asked, feeling unaccountably hurt by the thought that Blair hadn't taken him into his confidence.

"Only last week when we had lunch together." Simon stopped and raised a hand in the air. "You've told Blair you're bi too, right?"

"It hasn't come up," Jim said.

"Well, it had for him. Jesus, Jim, are you really that oblivious to what's been happening to the kid? I thought you were a Sentinel."

"I am, but I'm not a mind reader," Jim said. He rubbed his forehead firmly. His head was starting to ache. This was not the way he'd envisioned his Christmas. "Okay." He blew out a breath, consciously relaxing as Blair had taught him. "What did he tell you, Simon?"

"I took him out for lunch the day you were in court on the Donaldson case. He was moping around the bullpen, looking like something the cat dragged in," Simon said defensively. "I was worried he was going to have a deleterious effect on office morale. You know how the whole MC team use him as a sort of mascot, and worry about him if he's under the weather."

"What… did… he… tell… you?" Jim asked again, spacing each word as if trying to explain quantum physics to a very small child.

Simon shook his head and sighed. "He said he didn't know how long he could stay at the loft knowing he was in love with you and that you didn't feel the same way about him. I said I didn't know he was gay and he said he was bi. Told me about the guy he'd stayed on in Cascade for. Turns out the guy took off to Borneo or Australia or something just before Blair met you. Blair never heard from him again. He told me he understood you'd never feel that way about him because you were straight, and that he was thinking of moving out."

"What did you tell him?" Jim asked, his mouth dry at the thought of Blair leaving, despite the Scotch he'd been sipping on.

Simon grinned. "I told him you were bi too, and that he should tell you how he felt, that I was pretty sure you loved him too." Simon gave Jim a sad look. "He didn't tell you, huh?"

Jim shook his head. "Nope," he said, his heart aching at the opportunity he'd lost.

"Let's go," Simon said decisively.

"What?" Jim asked, as William pushed his coat into his hand.

"Put your coat on before you get outside, son. It's cold out there."

"Where am I going?" Jim asked as Steven helped him put his coat on.

"To talk to Blair, and hopefully get him to come back here with you for Christmas," William replied as if it should be crystal clear.

"I am?" Jim asked dazedly.

"Yep," Steven said. He walked across the room to Mara. "I'm going with Simon and Jim to get Blair," he said.

"Okay, honey." She kissed him warmly.

"Tell Blair I want to hear about the Kombai tree people, Dad, okay?" Jack said.

"Do you think Blair can show me how to do real henna markings on my Barbie?" Sarah asked.

"Sure. Just let's not all overwhelm him with attention when he gets here, all right?" Steven said. "We need to give him and Uncle Jim some space."

"Uncle Jim and Blair sitting in a tree," Jack sang, his eyes dancing mischievously. "K-I-S-"

"Jack!" Mara slapped a hand over her son's mouth and smiled apologetically over at Jim, who just shook his head and blushed. "Sorry," she whispered.

"Forget it," Jim said, with an embarrassed smile. "Kids… you know…."

"Okay, let's hit the road," Simon said loudly, and with no more warning that that Jim found himself bundled back out into the cold, snowy night.

"Wait," a voice called as Jim climbed into the front seat next to Steven.

Mara pushed something into Jim's hand. "It's mistletoe," she explained. "I wasn't sure if you'd decorated for Christmas or not… Steven said probably not. That you've never been big on decorations and stuff. Anyway…." She leaned through the window and kissed Jim's cheek. "Merry Christmas, Jim. I hope all your wishes come true."

~oOo~

Jim trod softly up to the door of the loft and extended his hearing inside. He smiled. For a guy who claimed Christmas was no big deal, Blair had a funny way of showing it. He turned back to the head of the stairs, holding his hand up, telling Simon and Steven to stay where they were. Then, as the last chords of "I'll Be Home For Christmas," melted away he pulled out his key and unlocked the door, pushing it open and stepping inside.

Blair looked up, surprise evident on his expressive face. He laid his guitar down at his feet and stood up. "Jim, what are you doing here? Oh, man, tell me you and your dad didn't have an argument already?"

Jim stepped forward into the apartment and moved towards him. "My dad and I didn't have an argument already," he parroted obediently.

"Oh. That's good." Blair took an instinctive step back as Jim walked towards him. The couch hit him behind his knees and he sat down abruptly. "So… how come you're home so soon?"

Jim moved forward till he was standing as close to Blair as he could. "I needed to tell you something," he said, straddling Blair's legs. Something pricked his palm, and he smiled then held it out, above Blair's head.

"What?" Blair asked softly. "Jim, what have you got there?" He craned his head up for a look and Jim took the opportunity presented, leaning down to take Blair's surprised mouth in a soft kiss.

"It's mistletoe, Chief," Jim replied, pulling away. He ran a gentle hand down Blair's cheek and cupped his jaw, leaning down again for a far more passionate kiss.

Blair's hands reached up and pushed him back. "Jim? What's going on?"

"I'm trying to tell you something I wish I'd told you ages ago," Jim replied, sitting beside Blair and placing the mistletoe in his hand. "I love you. I hope you love me too."

"God, Jim! Simon told you, didn't he? Man, that was a private conversation. When I see him-"

Jim stopped the outpouring of righteous anger with his mouth. After a moment of feeling Blair kissing him back, he stopped and leaned away. "I'm not sorry he did," he said mildly. "I needed a wakeup call. I wish you'd told me but…. The end result's the same, isn't it?" He pulled Blair around to face him and looked into his eyes. "Isn't it, Blair? You do love me, don't you?"

Blair nodded. "You love me?" he asked, his voice a trembling whisper.

"Would I be here kissing you if I didn't?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head then reached out and traced a line down Jim's throat, then rested his hand over Jim's heart. "I've loved you for the longest time," he said.

"Me too," Jim said as he pulled his lover into his arms.

He heard the quiet snick of the door as it was pulled closed, and grinned as he followed the voices of his co-conspirators down the stairs.

"So, I guess they don't want to come back for Christmas dinner," Steven was saying.

"I don't think so," Simon replied. "Hey, we'll drop by tomorrow, bring them the leftovers. I don't think they're thinking about food right now."

Jim hugged Blair tight for a moment more then pushed him away. "So… how about Christmas dinner?" he asked.

"Um, Jim, I hate to tell you this but the best I can come with is sliced turkey on rye. That close enough for you?" Blair replied, grinning. "This is for real, right?" he asked hesitantly.

"Blair, I love you. This is for real… and forever," Jim said firmly. He stood up, pulling Blair up with him. "So, turkey on rye… and then bed." He bent and gave Blair a heart-stopping kiss. "Sounds like all my Christmas wishes have come true. How about yours?"

Blair smiled at him, his eyes damp with emotion. "All of them and more, Jim," he said. "Happy Christmas."

~oOo~

Jim placed a cautionary finger over his lips as his father opened the door.

William just nodded and reached out to squeeze Blair's shoulder welcomingly. He beckoned them toward the living room and quietly opened the door.

"Dad, you're making this up," Jack was complaining loudly. "That's not the Kombai people. That's Swiss Family Robinson. I'm going to play my new Gameboy."

Jim watched as Simon flashed an amused grin over at Steven, as he followed Jack from the room. He just barely stopped himself laughing out loud as Sarah voiced a shrill complaint.

"Pay attention, Uncle Simon. You just turned Barbie's henna tattoo into a blob."

Simon rolled his eyes heavenwards, then looked down again at the tiny paintbrush he held in his large fingers. "Sorry," he muttered. "Don't you want to go play with your other gifts?" he asked the child.

Sarah shook her head firmly. "Not till Barbie's tattoos are finished," she replied in a stubborn tone.

Jim stepped into the room, towing Blair by the hand, and walked across to Simon, leaning forward over his shoulder to take the brush from him, and sitting down on the floor next to Sarah. "I think this needs Sentinel vision to get it just right," he said.

Simon looked up and gave him a grateful grin. "All yours," he said, standing up and giving Blair a quick hug. "Happy Holidays, Blair," he said. "I guess you two worked things out?"

Blair nodded, his cheeks flushing. "Yeah, we did. Thanks for the help, man."

"Hey, Chief, why don't you go find Jack? He wants to hear about those tree people you lived with. Sounds like poor Steve's been doing the best he can by proxy, but he's no anthropologist."

Blair leaned down and kissed the top of Jim's head. "Okay. You guys have fun with Barbie."

"Blair and Uncle Jim sitting in a tree-" Sarah began singing.

Simon covered his face with his hand. "I need a drink," he said feelingly, walking away.

William watched, smiling, from the sidelines. He picked up the CD remote and cued a song as Sally walked in from the kitchen. Taking the plates from her hands, and putting them on the side table, he waltzed her around the living room to the strains of Jingle Bell Rock.

END