This was posted to SA in December, 2004.

This is my Christmas tale for this year. And I'm actually getting it posted before Christmas. Considering the length of this thing, it's a wonder.

This takes place at what would be the first Christmas Jim and Blair spends together. There is mention of various episodes up through Black and White, during season two. There are spoilers for some episodes during the first and second seasons.

Also, there is Jim owies and Blair angst. Other than that, this is just another holiday story.

All mistakes are mine; this is only spell-checked.

Rated PG

EMAIL: Debbie

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CHRISTMAS IN CASCADE

By: Debbie Tripp

 

In the nine months since he had moved in, Blair Sandburg had basically juggled his responsibilities at the university with his work with Detective Jim Ellison. They had done some activities together, but Blair found that Jim liked to be on his own, especially after a grueling case or a long day. The nine months had been the most action-packed Blair had encountered in his life. He never knew police work was so demanding. It never seemed that way when he'd see cops when he was growing up. But, maybe it was the nature of Major Crime and Jim Ellison in particular.

Over the nine months, Blair had tried to watch himself and not become too involved in Jim's life. Just in case it didn't work out. Which, considering Jim's personality, was a distinct possibility.

Blair had spent the fourth of July with friends at the beach, watching the fireworks set off from out in the bay. He had suspected Jim wouldn't want to go, because of the havoc it would wreck on his sight and hearing. And, sure enough, when Blair got home later that night, Jim was upstairs in his bedroom, eye mask in place and ear plugs in his ears. He hadn't even heard Blair as he came upstairs to stand by the bottom of Jim's bed.

On Halloween, Blair had been involved in a haunted house run by a friend at the university. It had been a big hit and later, Blair had found out Jim had spend most of the night at the station, answering disturbance and complaint calls.

"You should have told me, man. I would have helped."

"No need. Nothing that required my 'special' abilities."

"Oh. Okay. Just, give me a heads up next time and I'll help out."

"You had other commitments."

When Naomi had been in town prior to Thanksgiving, she had invited Blair to New Mexico to celebrate with friends. Blair had given a tentative approval. Naomi hadn't invited Jim. Blair knew he'd have to let Jim know he'd probably be away for a couple of days.

"Is that okay with you, Jim?"

"No problems. I usually don't do much for Thanksgiving anyway."

"You don't get together with your family?"

"No." Jim turned away from Blair and walked towards the kitchen.

From the tone, Blair could tell Jim didn't want to talk any more about the subject.

"So, when are you going to leave?"

"My mom said she'd send me a plane ticket."

But Blair had contacted Naomi the day he was supposed to leave Cascade. "Something's come up, Mom. I can't make it. No, Jim's okay. It's something personal. No, I don't want to discuss it. Yeah. Tell George and Missy I'll call. And I'll pay you back for the plane ticket. No, I'll pay you back. Yes, I have the money. Okay, mom. Yeah. I love you, too. Bye."

Jim had overheard most of the conversation between Blair and his mother. And Jim knew why Blair was backing out of going to New Mexico. The hurt of rejection was still too fresh. And Blair probably suspected that anyone would be able to see his disappointment. Jim wondered what Blair was going to do now. Jim had arranged to fill in at the station so that the officers with families could be with their families on Thanksgiving.

Blair came out of his bedroom. The look of sadness and despair, which had been on Blair's face ever since Maya had broken Blair's heart, again, was still there. And Blair looked perpetually tired these days for some reason.

"I couldn't help but overhear your phone conversation… New Mexico is out?"

"Ah…yeah. It would just take too much to go and be happy when I don't feel it."

"So, what about Thanksgiving?"

"What about it?"

"Were you planning on something?"

"Not really. When you said you didn't do anything special, I decided I'd go to the homeless shelter and serve Thanksgiving meals to people. At least I'll be helping someone."

"Sounds like a noble effort, Chief."

"Yeah. Someone deserves to be happy."

So, Thanksgiving had come and gone. Blair had found out Jim was working at the station. They hadn't seen each other until late that night. After leaving the homeless shelter, Blair had drove around the city, no set destination in mind. He had tried to reconcile his feelings for Maya and the fact that she was now banned from entering the states again. He was wondering if he could find an excuse to travel to Chile. Maybe some anthropology related field trip. But he had finally come to the conclusion it was probably best if he and Maya never saw each other again. It was definitely trouble when they got together.

Blair was quiet when he got home around 11:30 PM. He noticed Jim was sitting on the couch in the mostly dark living room. But Blair could see his silhouette.

"Busy at the homeless shelter?"

"Not exactly. I just had some things I had to think about. I'm sorry if I worried you."

"I'm just glad you're safe and sound, Chief."

"Thanks, Jim. I'm going to bed. Goodnight."

"Night, Chief."

Jim monitored Blair as he shuffled off towards his bedroom, closing the doors silently behind him. Blair was tired. Jim was glad that Blair had a break at the university. With the juggling act Blair was performing between the university and the station, Jim could tell it was taxing on the young man. Add into that the psychos, murderers, drug dealers and other assorted bad guys Blair had encountered along the way in the short time he had hooked up with Jim, Jim knew it had been a lot to digest for a cop, let alone an anthropologist who had no criminal justice background. But the way Blair conducted himself; it was hard sometimes for Jim to remember Blair was just a civilian observer. Jim chuckled. Blair was a lot more than just a civilian observer.

Basically, from the very first meeting between the two men, Blair had helped Jim immeasurably. But all Jim seemed to do was grouse and complain. He'd complain Blair would leave towels lying around in the bathroom, hair in the sink and the shower, toothpaste on the bathroom counter, and numerous other infractions that Blair always seemed to ignore and do over and over again. It just wasn't in Jim's nature to thank people for doing something good for him. It was the reason why over the years, he didn't have many people he could call close friends.

But it seemed like Blair was different from other people. Jim thought others just wanted things from him. Blair wanted things too, but he was willing to give of himself in return. And Jim found himself caring about Blair. Something that was foreign to him. He hadn't felt that way since the early days of his marriage to Carolyn. Despite the way they ended up, Jim and Carolyn had been in love when they married. The feelings towards Blair were similar to the ones he had for his brother Steven back when they had been close growing up. But that still didn't make it easy for Jim to thank Blair for all he did. It wasn't a conscious effort on Jim's part.

Jim was thinking maybe he should do something for Blair. He wondered if Blair celebrated Christmas. Jim decided to ask in the morning.

Maybe they could celebrate together, although Jim never really celebrated Christmas either. It was part of the reason he and Carolyn had broken up. She was big into holiday celebrations and he just wanted to treat them like it was just another day. But Jim was thinking if Blair wanted to…

In the morning, Jim brought up the subject over breakfast, which Jim had made.

"Well, I never was one to go for the commercialization of Christmas. It's just an excuse for stores and retailers to gouge consumers. The bigger the present, the better. I never believed that. I've given presents to family and close friends over the years, but they were always thoughtful gifts the person could use or I thought they would like."

"So, do you want to do Christmas?"

"I guess." Blair's response was less than enthusiastic.

"Okay, Sandburg. What's wrong?"

"Wrong? Nothing's wrong, Jim."

"I know how you get, Chief. Spill it."

"It's not an interrogation. I have rights!"

Blair got to his feet and stormed off to his bedroom. He slammed the door closed behind him. Jim grimaced from the noise.

"Good move, Ellison."

Jim didn't confront Blair the rest of the day, not wanting to endure the wrath of the young man. Blair left the loft around 10:00 AM and didn't return until well past midnight. Jim had already gone to bed, but heard it when Blair came in. He seemed okay, but he wasn't muttering to himself as he usually did.

Jim decided to let the subject die. If Blair wanted to do something for Christmas, he'd let Jim know. If not, they wouldn't do anything. Jim didn't want to push something onto Blair he didn't want. After all, Jim didn't really care one way or another.

Christmas for him hadn't been joyous since his mom had left when he was just a boy. Of course, Sally had tried to make it festive for the Ellison boys, but it just wasn't the same. And William Ellison had cared more about his work and business contacts than his sons.

He had Sally, their housekeeper, purchase the presents, wrap them and hand them to the boys on Christmas morning. William would sit in his chair, watching the whole procedure with detached interest.

But there was a need in Jim to do something different this year. In the past, he avoided having a Christmas tree and lights and brightly colored ornaments on the tree because it would wreck havoc on his senses. But maybe with Blair there… he could help get control. Jim wasn't going to let it go.

It was a couple of days later when Jim brought up the subject again. They were at the station and the maintenance workers were putting up the Christmas tree in the lobby.

"So, have you thought any more about Christmas? I was thinking we could go pick out a Christmas tree. I'm sure I have some ornaments in storage down in the basement. I can go out and buy some lights. You could even put up mistletoe if you want."

"Mistletoe? Why would I want to put up mistletoe? I haven't had a date for…"

Jim knew how long it had been.

"Sorry, Chief. So, you want to help me pick out a Christmas tree?"

"Well, I have tests I have to take and to give. It's near the end of the semester."

"I was thinking on the weekend, Chief."

"Well, this weekend, I was going to go out with a couple friends from the university. We've been going together on a weekend trip for several years now. I sorta promised them…"

"Its fine, Sandburg. I understand. You do have a life of your own."

But Blair could hear the disappointment in Jim's voice. Maybe it was past time to move out. He had overstayed his welcome of a week as he originally stated to Jim. He'd make a conscientious effort to find a place of his own. He had been able to save up some money over his time with Jim. Jim hadn't been real picky about getting his rent money all at once or even on time. Several times, he had allowed Blair to slide by, telling him he more than made up the rent due helping with Jim's senses, and helping with cases.

But now it was time to move on. He had been a responsible grownup long before he was considered grownup age wise. Before the gang activity resulted in his warehouse becoming inhabitable, he had paid his rent monthly for a generous amount of space. Of course now he didn't expect he'd see that much space available at such a great price. But maybe he could find something closer to the university that would afford him the luxury of not having to drive his car all of the time, adding to the pollution of the air.

Of course, Jim did expect him to be available, both at the station and on investigations. When had he become more than an observer? He remembered what he thought at the beginning of the relationship. He'd test Jim's hyper senses, do a couple of ride-alongs, and give Jim suggestions about coping with spikes in his senses. But, from the day he had arrived at the station to fill out the paperwork, Blair had been involved full-tilt and it hadn't let up over the months since. He didn't know if he could just give it up and go back to his quiet, boring academic life. Although, there were times when he missed doing things at the university such as organizing food drives, clothes drives, anthropology jam sessions and just hanging out with people who had come to accept him because he had been there forever. And he had more than proven himself over the years. People had discovered that Blair Sandburg was reliable, trustworthy and smart as a whip. He was passionate about anthropology, but over the last three or four years, prior to coming across Jim Ellison, his focus had been on people with hyper senses, a sense that was more heightened than regular senses. Blair had found people with heightened sense of hearing, sight and smell. But no one with all five senses. Not even anyone with three all together. But he had documented all his encounters over the years with the hope that one day he'd find someone with all five heightened senses. And it had happened, just when Blair was going to move on to something else. Jim Ellison had proven his suspicions correct.

Maybe he could have the best of both worlds, continue on with the university and still help Jim on occasion when he could. Just not be so involved that he risked his life. Blair had done that enough so far. And it wasn't like he had a death wish. And he totally understood his mother's apprehension when she had seen what she perceived as to be a kidnapping. It really had been a kidnapping, but it hadn't been any more harrowing than any other time previously. God, his life was beginning to sound like an open invitation with every psycho and killer invited to take a whack at him.

No wonder he had overheard officers at the station calling him a 'trouble magnet', including some in Major Crime. Including Jim on occasion. Maybe it was time to back away somewhat. Blair got back to work on the reports Jim had left for him to do. Jim loved it when Blair would do his reports, because they came out sounding like there had been some thought put into it. Of course, Simon already knew that Blair was doing Jim's reports.

Blair looked up to see where Jim was. He didn't spot him in the bullpen. Then Blair saw Jim coming back from the break room with that cute, young receptionist from Traffic. Sheila…something. To Blair, it looked like Jim was lining up a date. Good for him. That gave Blair added incentive to find a place of his own. If he regained his life, maybe he could start to think about having a private life again. Maybe start dating again.

Jim came over to the desk and basically ignored Blair. But Blair couldn't let the moment pass just like that.

"So? You and Sheila?"

"Yeah. We're going out Friday night."

"Good for you. What was she doing up here in Major Crime?"

"She's a cousin to Martins."

"Oh. She looks 100% better than Martins does."

"Isn't that the truth?"

"So, is there anything other than your reports you wanted me to do?"

"Why? You anxious to get out of here?"

"Well, I do have a test I have to take at 2:00 this afternoon and I need to look a few things up."

"You finished with what you were doing?"

"I'll be finished in about 15 minutes."

Jim looked at his watch. It was only 11:15 AM.

"How about some lunch?"

"I'll grab something when I get on campus. I really need to look some things up in the library and I don't know how long it will take. Thanks anyway, man."

"I just worry about you sometimes, Blair."

"No need, Jim. I can take care of myself. I'm a big boy now."

Blair finished up the report, giving it to Jim when he was done. He grabbed his backpack and got to his feet. He snatched his coat off the hook there and put it on.

"Will you be home later?"

"I should be. I'll probably get there before you. I'll make dinner."

"Sounds good, Chief. Don't forget to get something to eat."

"Yes, dad. I'll see you later, Jim."

Jim watched as Blair walked out of the bullpen and towards the elevators. Blair got on the elevator and went down to the garage where his car was parked. He got inside his car and left the police station. He drove to the university and picked up the latest paper as he walked towards his office. He could peruse the available apartments and see if there was anything in his price range. He unlocked his office door and walked inside. He flipped on the lights and it added marginally to seeing better. Blair sat down at his desk, leaving his coat on, as it appeared the heat hadn't reached his office. It was always cold in the drafty office.

Blair chuckled. Office was a generous name for the hole in the wall where he had been stuck after becoming a TA. It was no bigger than a closet and it didn't help that Blair had stuffed all types of artifacts and papers throughout every available space. And the rest was used as a storage facility for the overrun from other professors and TA's. That's why he loved going home at nights to the warehouse. There were wide open spaces in the warehouse and Blair could spread out as far as he wanted to.

This wasn't the case with the loft. Jim had listed very specific rules that he expected to be followed. And Blair did the best he could. But he missed the wide-open spaces. All of his things were cramped into a small room, probably originally slated to be used as a small office space. Blair had to use the room as a bedroom, an office, a storage facility and a place to relax. It just cramped his style big time.

Not that he was ungrateful to Jim for giving him the place to live. The night of the explosion and his subsequent eviction, Jim could have left Blair high and dry without a prospect. But Blair had been sympathetic enough that Jim felt sorry for him. And Jim had accepted the fact that Blair had only said one week. When the week had come and gone, Jim hadn't said a word. Blair kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but about two weeks later, after Lash had terrorized Blair, Jim confessed to Blair that he liked the idea Blair was nearby so Jim could keep an eye on him. Blair took that as a sign that he could stay.

But the small space known as his bedroom was just too small. Even the dorm room he stayed in when he first came to Rainier had been bigger than the bedroom. He had to find another place to live. Something with wide, open spaces.

Blair looked through the ads for apartments. He circled several of them and decided he could go look at them tomorrow. He only had to give a midterm that afternoon. He'd tell Jim he had to be at the university all day and he'd be able to check out the apartments. Maybe by Christmas, he could be in his new place. A perfect Christmas gift for Jim.

The next day, Blair took off early, telling Jim he'd be at the university all day. Truth was he was going to check out the list of apartments he had gotten from the paper. But he didn't want to say anything to Jim until he had something lined up as a true prospect. No use raising Jim's hopes too soon. And the truth was Blair wasn't sure how Jim was going to take it. Although he suspected Jim would be happy about it. He'd get his sterile, orderly world back. Of course, he'd have no reason to complain about things. But Blair was sure Jim would find something else to complain about.

Blair spent most of the morning looking at the places he had circled from the paper. But none of them felt quite right. Most of them didn't have the space he was looking for. Blair knew the best thing for him was another warehouse. But he didn't know where he could find another one. And he was sure Jim would frown on the fact that he was living in another warehouse. He hadn't been too thrilled with the last one.

Blair got to the university by noon and walked to his office. He got inside his office and saw the message light was flashing on his phone. He listened to the message. It was from Simon Banks.

"Sandburg, it's Simon. There's been an incident. It's about 10:30 AM now and Jim is being transported to Cascade General. You should come as soon as you can. I don't want to discuss this over the phone. But Jim is going to be okay. At least, I hope so. Just get here to the hospital so you can see for yourself."

Blair slumped down in his chair and sat there. Hospital? Jim? Oh, God!! What had happened? Blair knew he had to get to the hospital. But he was wondering if he could drive himself. His nerves seemed shot. He could feel his whole body trembling. And he had a mid-term to give. He had to get that covered before he even thought about going to check on Jim. Blair shakily got to his feet grabbed the test he was giving to the class and left his office. He'd ask one of the professors if they could cover his class. He would be able to grade the tests. As long as Jim was going to be okay.

After Blair got things squared away at the university, he left to go to the hospital. As he drove there, he cursed himself for being elsewhere when Simon had tried to contact him. He wondered if Jim had told Simon where he could be contacted. He had lied to Jim, not telling him the truth of what he was up to. And now, Jim was in the hospital. An incident. How incidental could it have been? Blair was sure that his lying and Jim's incident weren't in the least related, but the coincidence was just a little much for him.

Blair arrived at the hospital and then realized he didn't know where to look for Jim. After all, he didn't have Jim's enhanced senses. He walked into the Emergency entrance, deciding to start there. Blair realized, other than seeing Jim shot by Angie Farris, and practically beat up by Ray Weston, during the same case; he hadn't seen Jim hurt in the line of duty. This was amazing, considering the risks Jim seemed to take almost constantly. There had been the problems with Jim's senses, but so far, that hadn't been anything life-threatening.

Blair stopped at the nurse's station and asked if Jim Ellison was being treated. Blair explained he was Jim's partner and had been notified that Jim had been transported to the hospital. Blair waited patiently while the nurse checked the computer. She looked up at him after a few minutes.

"He's been taken up to surgery. It looks like about an hour ago now. Do you know where surgery is?"

Blair nodded his head. "Yeah. Fourth floor."

"Right. Just check in with the nurse's station up there."

"Thanks."

Blair turned around momentarily confused as to where he was. But then he spotted the elevators and walked over them. He reached out, punching the up button and waited for the elevator to arrive. It seemed to take forever, at least to Blair. He got into the elevator car when it arrived and was grateful he was the only one in the car. He pushed button four and the doors closed. The elevator started its ascent. Blair leaned against the back wall and closed his eyes. He was still trembling slightly. Jim was in surgery. This meant it had to be something serious. Too soon, the elevator reached its destination. Blair hesitated a moment before getting out of the elevator car. He wasn't so sure he wanted to face this. What if it was more serious than what Simon had mentioned? What if things had taken a turn for the worse?

`Just move forward and find out, Sandburg!' Blair admonished himself for hesitating. And he thought he was grown-up? Where had that radical idea come from? He didn't act grown-up as he was hesitating finding out about Jim.

Blair got out of the elevator and saw the nurse's station right there. He walked up to the desk.

"May I help you, sir?"

"Yes, I was told that Jim Ellison was in surgery? Is there anything you can tell me about it?"

"Are you a relative, sir?"

"No. I'm Jim's roommate and partner."

"I'm sorry, I can't release the information about Detective Ellison's surgery. But there are two gentlemen waiting in the waiting room. You can join them. There's a Captain Banks and a Captain Taggart."

"Where's the waiting room?"

"At the end of the hall on the right."

"Thank you."

Blair walked down the hall slowly. Just as he reached the door leading to the waiting room, the door opened and Joel Taggart stepped outside.

"Blair? There you are. Simon was worried about where you were."

"I got here as soon as I could. How's Jim?"

"I'll let Simon explain things to you. He's inside the waiting room. Go on in."

Joel started to walk off.

"Where are you going, Joel?"

"I just need to take a little break, make a few phone calls. Get inside there."

"Yes, sir." Blair walked into the waiting room, spotting Simon getting a cup of coffee. He looked up as Blair walked inside.

"There you are, Sandburg!! Where have you been?"

"I have commitments at the university!" Blair was a little put off by Simon's attitude. "How's Jim?"

"He was shot in the leg and they took him into surgery to remove the bullet. He'll be off his feet for a while."

"What happened?"

"He and Brown were out questioning witnesses in a shooting that had come up this morning. When they approached the house of one witness, there was a hail of gunfire. Jim caught a bullet in the right leg."

"He didn't know…"

"Know what, Sandburg?"

"Nothing. Did the doctor say how long it was going to take in surgery?"

"A couple of hours. It's only been about an hour and a half. Why did it take you so long to get here?"

"I was in class. I didn't get back to my office until noon. That's when I got your message. I'm sorry I wasn't there to pick up the call immediately!!" Simon's accusations were getting to be a bit much for Blair. He walked away from Simon.

"Well, forgive me for thinking you'd be concerned about Jim's well- being."

"I am concerned for his well-being!! I'm here aren't I?"

"That's about enough disrespect, Sandburg!!"

"Hey, I'm not one of you obedient officers who take orders from you!!"

Simon was about ready to say something else when the doctor came in.

"How's Detective Ellison?"

"We were able to remove the bullet with no major tissue or ligament damage. He'll need some PT, but he should be able to make a full recovery."

"There were no adverse reactions to the medications?"

Both Simon and the doctor looked strangely at Blair.

"And you are…?"

"I'm Blair Sandburg. I'm Detective Ellison's friend and partner. Detective Ell – Jim reacts with certain medications and chemicals. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

"He was fine when he was wheeled into recovery. You can see him after he's situated in a regular room in a couple of hours."

"Thank you, doctor."

The doctor left the waiting room. Blair breathed a sigh of relief. At least it appeared Jim was going to be okay. He'd be hobbled for a while, but he'd be okay. Blair was rethinking his decision to move out. Maybe he could wait until after the holidays. Until Jim was back on his feet, so to speak.

"…you go to stay?"

Simon was talking to Blair and Blair had missed it.

"Sandburg!!"

"What Simon?"

"I was talking to you!!"

"Sorry. I was thinking."

"I asked you if you were going to stay."

"Yeah. I thought I would. I was able to clear things at the university before I left. By the way, did Jim tell you I'd be at the university?"

"No. I wasn't able to talk to him after the shooting. I just assumed that's where you were. Jim has mentioned you've been busy at the university lately."

"Yeah. I have been. Look, captain. I'm sorry if I was a little testy with you earlier. It's just that I've never…I never thought I'd…I just…"

"It's okay, Sandburg. I understand. It's hard enough dealing with an injured detective when you're his superior officer. I can imagine your reaction, just being an observer. Just another in the long list of things you've seen since you've hooked up with Jim."

Blair only nodded his head. He had to agree with Simon on that one. It wasn't at all what he had envisioned when he had made his proposition to Jim all those months ago. But he wanted to stick things out. Just so he could help Jim with his senses. Jim was just beginning to understand that his heightened senses were special, thanks in no small part by Blair repeating it over and over to him. Blair felt if he abandoned Jim now, it would be questionable whether or not Jim would continue to use his 'gifts', as Blair called them.

It was about two hours later when Jim was moved to a regular room. The nurse came and notified both Blair and Simon, who had stuck around to make sure Jim was going to be okay. The nurse reported that Jim was awake, but he needed his rest and not to stay very long. Both Blair and Simon promised not to stay very long. They walked to Jim's room side by side. Simon took the lead once they reached the door to the room and opened it, walking in first. Blair followed, still somewhat shook over what had happened. Simon walked over to the bed, happy to see Jim alert and awake in the bed.

"How are you doing, Jim?"

"I'm fine, sir. A little tired, but that's to be expected, I suppose. How's Brown?"

"He was able to take down the shooter. It turns out the shooter is a cousin of the suspect in the murder. The cousin was with the suspect. After some investigating, they were able to get the suspect in the murder also."

"Well, at least we were on the right track. Tell Brown I'm sorry I left him with the whole investigation."

"He understands, Jim. He sends his best and he'll be by in a day or so."

Jim noticed Blair standing just inside the door. Jim couldn't read the expression on Sandburg's face. But he did notice he just stood there.

"What'd you do, Simon? Scare the kid?"

Simon turned and looked at Blair. He shrugged his shoulders.

"It's hard for him to see his idol laid up in a hospital bed. He thinks you're indestructible."

"I doubt that, Simon." Jim spoke up to Blair. "Are you going to stand there all day, Chief? Come over here so you can talk to me."

Blair slowly made his way over to the hospital bed. He didn't look at Jim lying in the bed. He looked everywhere else around the room. Jim was beginning to suspect there might be a grain of truth in what Simon was saying.

"I'm going to be okay, Chief. Really."

Blair was looking down at the floor. It appeared as if Blair wasn't going to say a word. This was definitely unusual for the normally talkative young man. Even Simon was looking at Blair now.

"Are you okay, Sandburg?"

"Ah…yeah. I should get home. It's been a long day. Excuse me."

Blair turned and left the hospital room. Jim frowned and didn't understand what was going on. He looked at Simon.

"Did something happen?"

"No. We were waiting together for you to come out of surgery. I had called around 10:30 AM and he didn't make it to the hospital until around noon. He explained he had commitments to the university. But he seemed really upset that you were hurt. I mean, c'mon Jim, he's only an observer and look at what he's seen ever since he's come on board. It's enough to have seasoned officers question why. And Sandburg doesn't have any of that training. I may have been a little overboard when I said about his idol in the hospital and that you were indestructible, but I've seen the way the kid looks at you, Jim. He thinks you're a miracle and you practically walk on water. After all, you said he said you were his holy grail. And he has a vested interest in you staying healthy to finish his study. Right?"

"Right. But Blair isn't like that. He's not all take, take, take. I mean, he's helped me to see that I can have control and he's helped me on cases and personal stuff I've had to deal with over the months he's stayed with me. And there have been times when we just sit around and talk. He even tried to rope me into Thanksgiving, but I basically shot him down. I could see how much it meant to him, but I couldn't do it. He went off to the homeless shelter and helped those less fortunate and I was stuck at the station, answering domestic calls. Earlier in the week, I tried to engage him into celebrating Christmas with me. But he seemed a little reluctant. I was going to go out this weekend and get a Christmas tree and decorate the loft. I had invited Blair along, but he begged off, telling me he had planned on spending the weekend with a couple of university friends. It just brought up the differences between us. He has a whole other life at the university that I basically ignore, except when it interferes with a case or Blair helping me with my senses. Am I being too demanding?"

"I can't answer that, Jim. That's between you and Sandburg. I'm sure he'd tell you if it was too much for him. If he couldn't handle it."

"That's just it, Simon. I'm not so sure he'd tell me if it was too much. He seems so eager to please and do whatever it takes. But then there are times when it feels he's pulling away. I don't think he really knows how much would be too much. I don't want him to resent me. I have to admit he's becoming a very good friend. And I don't want to blow it."

Blair made it to the loft in one piece. He wasn't sure how he accomplished that feat. It was mid-afternoon, but Blair was exhausted. He thought again about Jim's earlier offer. To celebrate Christmas.

Blair had been truthful when he told Jim he had only given thoughtful presents to family and close friends. Truth was Naomi had never put much emphasis on Christmas, possibly because of their Jewish heritage, although she didn't push that onto Blair either. Blair had grown up with a healthy respect for all religions and all beliefs. But, there had never been a Christmas tree or Santa Claus.

Blair changed into a pair of sweats and fell into his bed, falling asleep within minutes.

Simon stayed at the hospital a little longer, talking to Jim.

"Will you check up on Sandburg, Simon?"

"He's a grown man, Jim." Simon wasn't at all pleased with the request from Jim.

"C'mon, Simon! I'd feel better if you looked in on him. At least call him. Ever since Maya broke his heart, again, he's been down. I just want to make sure he doesn't do anything rash."

"You think he's a danger to himself?"

"No. No. But it would be nice to know he's doing okay."

"Didn't you say he was taking off with a couple of university friends?"

"Yeah. This weekend. That's not for a couple of days."

"How long do you think you'll be in the hospital?"

"I've got to get out by Friday. I have a date with Sheila Borden, the receptionist from Traffic. She'll think I'm sexy with a cane."

"You may have to put your love life on hold, Jim."

"So? Will you check on Sandburg for me?"

"Sure, Jim. I'll check on Sandburg."

"Thanks, Simon."

"I have nothing better to do. Relax and I'll be back tomorrow."

Simon went back to the station to wrap up a few last minute things. It was about 5:00 when he got ready to leave. He thought about calling Sandburg, but decided to wait until tomorrow morning.

The nightmare woke Blair and he lay wide-awake in his bed. He looked over at the clock on his desk. It read 12:30 AM.

It wasn't the first nightmare he had suffered. Right from the beginning, after knocking Jim to the pavement to avoid the garbage truck, Blair had suffered nightmares. That particular nightmare had been that Blair was too late to save Jim, losing his Sentinel as soon as he found him. This nightmare was that Jim hadn't survived the shooting and Blair had to identify the body in the morgue.

Blair sat up in his bed, looking around in the dark. It wasn't pitch black because of the moonlight coming in through the window of the fire escape door.

He didn't tell Jim about his nightmares, mainly because he didn't want to appear as a wuss. The exception had been after Lash had abducted and tried to kill Blair. Those nightmares had been more intense and Blair had screamed out loud, scaring Jim to a certain extent. Blair had apologized over and over, but Jim had dismissed it. He kept telling Blair he was more courageous than most police officers. If Jim only knew…

Blair got out of bed, making his way by moonlight towards the doors to his bedroom. He opened the doors and walked out into the living room. He knew the nightmare wasn't real. But he was thinking about leaving again. He was torn as to what he wanted to do. His instincts told him to stay, to help Jim with his abilities. Jim had made great strides with being able to use his abilities, but Blair knew there was so much they needed to explore. And Blair had told Jim from the beginning that a sentinel had a companion to watch the sentinel's back. And, whether Blair liked it or not, the job was his.

Blair lifted the blind covering the balcony window. He sat down on the floor in front of the window, legs crossed, arms at his side. Blair closed his eyes, letting his mind clear and drift.

The phone ringing brought him out of his contemplation. He got to his feet and over to the phone. The clock read 7:45 AM.

"Hello?"

"Sandburg? It's Captain Banks. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, captain. I'm fine. Why are you calling?"

"Jim wanted me to check on you. Since you left so abruptly from the hospital."

"Jim worries too much. I'll go smooth things over with him later."

"Let him know I checked up on you."

"Will do, captain. Thanks for the concern."

"No disrespect, Sandburg!"

Blair laughed. "No sir."

Blair took a shower and got dressed after talking to Simon. Blair had no classes until that afternoon. He'd stop to check on Jim in the hospital. He could just imagine the impression he had given Jim yesterday. Quiet and afraid. Which was opposite of his usual interaction with Jim. But, truth be told, it was probably closer to reality. Blair had gotten to be a master at hiding things from Jim when he wanted to.

Blair ate breakfast and left to go to the hospital. He walked into Jim's room. He plastered a smile on his face.

"Hey, Jim!" Blair tried to sound upbeat, hoping Jim bought it.

"Hey, Chief." There was a smile on Jim's face. "You okay, Chief?"

"Yes, Jim. I'm fine. Simon called to check on me this morning. He told me to tell you."

Jim could hear a hint of irritation in Blair's voice.

"You know I worry about you, Chief."

"I know, Jim. But there's no need. After all, I'm not the one in the hospital with a hole in my leg. I thought you were a better detective than that?"

"Well, the way you bolted out of here yesterday, it had me concerned. I need you to do me a favor Sandburg."

"What favor, Jim?"

"Talk to my doctor for me. Tell him you can look after me. I need to get out of here by Friday to keep my date with Sheila. I figure she'll take pity on my condition when she sees the cane. But the doctor wants to keep me in the hospital until Monday."

"Sorry, Jim. You know I don't have any influence with the doctors here. Every time I tried to get out early, they shot me down. And I'm not a trained medic like you are."

"You know, Sandburg, you're just plain evil. I'd do the same thing for you."

"Yeah, well, I don't have much of a social life anymore. And there aren't any prospects in the near future. I tend to attract criminals anyway."

"Are you still planning on going out of town with your friends from the university this weekend?"

"I guess. I hadn't really given it much thought after I found out you had been shot."

"I think you should go. It might do you good."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Jim. But I can look out for my own life."

"Can you do me a legitimate favor, Chief?"

"What now, Jim?"

"Can you tell Sheila what happened and that I'm stuck in the hospital until Monday?"

"Sure, Jim. I'll tell her how you're suffering in the hospital, all alone."

"Nice touch, Sandburg. It might work."

"I told you that you needed to take tips from me, man."

"That's not even funny, Sandburg."

"Well, you can thank me when she falls all over you helping you. I've got to go, Jim. There are some things I need to do."

"Don't be a stranger, Chief."

"I won't, Jim."

Blair left Jim's hospital room in a much better mood than when he came in. He decided to stop by the station and break the bad news to Sheila. Then, he had some other things to take care of before he went to the university.

Sheila had been upset Jim had been injured in the line of duty. And she agreed with Blair that a trip to the hospital was in order, even though she and Jim hadn't had a date yet. It would help to solidify their relationship. She had thanked Blair for telling her about Jim. Blair only smiled.

It had taken some doing getting the tree into the elevator and up to the third floor. Then there had been the struggle of getting through the door into the loft. Blair was pooped out, after trekking to the Christmas tree farm and picking out just the right tree. Unfortunately, he was sure there was some flaw in the tree that Jim would be able to spot right away, being so observant of such things. But Blair didn't want to wait for Jim, although it would have been a great bonding activity for the two of them. Jim would have been able to spot the perfect tree, or go throughout Cascade trying to find the perfect tree. Blair wanted this to be a surprise for Jim. It was the first Christmas tree Blair had ever purchased alone. He had been with other students at Rainier before when they had gotten Christmas trees and decorated them for the student union and the dormitories. But he had never done this on his own. He had found the poor selection of ornaments Jim had in a small box down in the basement. It just wouldn't do.

After getting the tree, loaded up in Jim's vehicle, which Blair knew he had to thoroughly clean afterwards, Blair went to buy ornaments, tinsel, lights and a tree stand. He got thorough instructions on how to take care of the tree. Blair knew he was going a little overboard especially when he got garland and greenery to decorate the rest of the loft. But he was sure Jim would appreciate the gesture.

Blair had to rest on the couch once he got the tree in the tree stand and watered. It had been a major effort. He looked at the time. He had to get to the university. He hadn't decorated the tree yet. He planned on doing that tonight. And he had decided to forego the trip with his friends. This year. It wouldn't be the first time one of them had backed out. It was just Blair never had backed out before. But his friends would understand.

Blair left the university around 4:30 and decided to stop by the hospital to look in on Jim to see how he was doing. He walked into the hospital room, seeing Henri Brown there.

"Hey, H. How's it going?"

"Awesome, Hairboy! I thought I'd stop by to see how Jim is doing."

"Is he behaving himself?"

"Of course I'm behaving, Sandburg. You seem like you're in a better mood than you were this morning."

"Oh, by the way, Jim, I told Sheila you were in the hospital. She'll probably be by to see you."

"Thanks, Sandburg."

"I best go, Jim. I'm glad to see you're doing okay."

"Thanks, H. I'll be okay. Laid up for a while, but I'll bounce back."

Henri left the hospital room, leaving Blair and Jim alone together.

"I've decided not to go out of town this weekend."

"Why not? I thought you looked forward to that trip every year?"

"That's just it, Jim. It's basically the same group of guys, going to the same place, year after year. I just thought I'd start a new tradition."

"What tradition is that, Sandburg?"

"It's a secret, Jim. You'll find out when you get home on Monday."Jim groaned. "Just tell me you didn't trash the loft?"

"I didn't trash the loft."

"Good. Do I have anything to do with this new tradition?"

"Possibly. You'll just have to wait and see, Jim."

Jim was curious as to what Sandburg was up to now.

Blair went home and decorated the tree. Then he decorated the loft. Jim would probably say over decorated the loft. But Blair was pleased with his efforts. And the fresh smell of pine permeated the air. Blair hoped it wasn't too much for Jim. But it didn't seem overwhelming to Blair. He'd find out on Monday when he brought Jim home from the hospital. Blair had already cleared his schedule so he could pick Jim up from the hospital.

Blair sat on the couch and watched the lights as they twinkled on and off. It was mesmerizing. He'd have to make sure Jim didn't zone on the lights. But Jim was much better with his control now. Blair hoped Jim appreciated the effort he put forward. He'd celebrate Christmas with Jim. And worry about moving or not moving after the holidays.

On Monday, Blair drove his car to the hospital to pick Jim up. From experience, Blair knew it would be much easier for Jim to maneuver around and get into his car than trying to jump up into Jim's truck. Jim had helped Blair into the truck after trips to the hospital, but Blair was sure he couldn't support Jim to help him get into the truck.

Blair walked into Jim's hospital room to see Jim up out of bed, leaning against his cane, looking out the window. He was already dressed in the sweats Blair had dropped off a couple of days ago.

"How are you doing, Jim?"

"Ready to get out of here. I appreciate the fact that you stopped by to pick me up."

"Hey, you've done the same thing for me. A couple of times. It's the nature of partnership and friendship. Has the doctor been by yet?"

"About 10 minutes ago. I'm free to go."

"Good. You able to walk out of here?"

"Yeah. I promised not to sue if I take a header."

"I brought my car. I figured it would be easier getting you in and out of."

"Good thinking. Let's go and I can find out your secret new tradition."

"Oh yeah. I almost forgot about that."

Blair drove Jim home, stopping by Wonder Burger along the way to get Jim some "real" food, as he termed it. Blair even paid for it, and even got himself a cheeseburger and fries, giving in to the temptation. He was anxious about Jim's reaction to his decorating job. He knew Jim would probably be able to smell the pine scent before they reached the loft. But maybe not with the smell of Wonder Burger throughout his car. He'd have to air it out later just to remove the smell, maybe even disinfect it.

They took the elevator up to the third floor, Blair holding both bags from Wonder Burger, while Jim leaned on his cane, inhaling the aroma of his triple decker double cheese burger and cheesy fries. When they reached the third floor, Blair let Jim get off the elevator first. Blair followed, jiggling his keys to get the key to the loft on top. Jim turned and pulled the keys from Blair's hand.

"It's the least I can do, Blair. You've done everything else."

"Well, I didn't want to complain…"

Jim put the key in the lock. The door was opened a few minutes later. Jim hobbled in first, since he was practically blocking the door. He stood just inside the loft, looking around at the magically transformed space before him and the huge Christmas tree, fully decorated, that stood over near the balcony windows.

"How…?"

"Well, I was thinking about when you asked me if I wanted to celebrate Christmas and my less than enthusiastic response. After you got shot, I thought I'd do something nice for you. It's not too much, is it?"

"No, Blair. It's perfect."

"Not overwhelming on your senses at all? I got a real tree, I didn't think ahead of time. I can…"

"Stop, Sandburg. It's fine. Really. Let's eat. I'm hungry."

"Yeah. Actually, I'm sort of hungry too."

They sat down to eat. Jim continued to glance around the loft, noticing little things Blair had done here and there. He had even run garland around the handrail leading upstairs to Jim's bedroom. It was festive.

"So? Are you a professional decorator? A secret career I've never known about?"

Blair laughed. "Actually, this is the first time in my life I've ever done this. By myself. I've helped others at the university decorate and put up Christmas trees, but this is the first time in my life I've ever done it all by myself. See, growing up, Naomi never put too much emphasis on Christmas, maybe because of our Jewish heritage, although she didn't push that onto me either. We never had a Christmas tree and I never encountered Santa Claus growing up. It made me feel separated from the other kids when they would talk about what they got for Christmas, their decorations at their houses and telling Santa Claus what they wanted. Naomi would give me gifts, but most of them were practical, clothes, pens, paper, pencils, and books. I didn't know anything different until I started at Rainier and a girl I had gone out with got me a genuine leather wallet. That was when I really started getting thoughtful gifts for certain friends and family."

By the time Blair had finished talking, he had walked over to the tree, plugging in the lights, watching the blinking lights, lost in the colors.

"I like your new tradition, Chief. I think we should do it every year from now on."

"Thanks, Jim. I wasn't sure about the tree. I could have used your sentinel abilities to help me pick out a better one."

"The one you picked out is just fine, Blair. I wouldn't change a thing."

It was still almost two weeks before Christmas. During that time, both Jim and Blair tried to come up with the perfect gift for each other.

The only thing Jim was sure of was that he didn't want to get Blair anything practical. Even though Blair could use new socks, new shirts, a new winter coat and numerous other things Jim had noticed Blair lacked. Jim was limited with how much actual shopping he could do on his own, so he enlisted Simon to drive him where he wanted to go. As he was hobbling through the mall, he spied the ideal gift for Blair. Not a hint of practicality.

Blair gave a lot of thought to what he wanted to get for Jim. What did you give to someone who had practically everything? And with his limited budget, Blair knew it couldn't be anything very expensive. One night as he was lying in his bed, he thought of the perfect gift for Jim. And suddenly, his mind was at ease.

On Christmas day, both men woke early, Blair starting the coffee and Jim anxiously waiting to open his gifts and have Blair open his. As Blair brought over coffee to Jim sitting on the couch, he noticed the huge present beside the tree. It wasn't able to fit under the tree.

"Whose present is that?" Blair pointed to the huge box.

"Yours, Chief. Merry Christmas."

"Mine? How'd you ever get that home with your bum leg?"

"I had help from some of Santa's elves."

"Yeah, right."

"Well, go ahead, Chief. Open it."

"Just a minute." Blair went over to the tree and got the two gifts he had for Jim and handed them to him.

"It's not much. Sorry."

"No need to apologize, Sandburg. I feel honored to be receiving a present from you. Our first holiday spent together."

Blair waited until Jim opened his gifts. Jim opened the wrapped package first and laughed when he saw it was a dozen new pairs of white socks. Jim looked up at Blair.

"What about practical not being trendy?"

"I just couldn't resist."

Jim was still chuckling when he opened the other gift – an envelope. He read the note Blair had enclosed.

'I promise to stay by your side, no matter what' Blair Sandburg

Jim looked over at Blair again.

"I don't know what to say, Blair."

"I know it's not much, but…"

"It's a lot, Blair. It's a promise. From you. Okay. It's your turn. All the rest of the presents are yours. And before you open them, I have to say I couldn't resist. You just needed things…"

Blair had already started tearing into the brightly wrapped packages. There were socks, shirts and a new winter coat, heavy and warm. The only gift left was the huge one. Blair started to open it and gasped when he realized what it was. He unwrapped it the rest of the way.

"Jim? It's too much. I can't…"

"Hey, if I can't spend my money on my friends, who can I spend it on? I had noticed you admiring that model of telescope in the mall a couple of months ago. I remembered that when I was there a while back."

"Thanks, Jim. I really like it. Not practical at all. Merry Christmas, Jim. Just sit there. I'll make breakfast."

"Sounds good, Blair. The perfect start to a new tradition."

 

THE END