Warning/Notes: Standalone. Angst. Smarm. December Themefic for Annie (Hi, Annie!). Disclaimer: Just borrowed, briefly

Joining Up for Christmas

By Jaye Daver

EMAIL: Jayed

A light pattern of snow was falling. It was rare and somewhat beautiful, flashing white and flowery under the street lights and in the eyes of the Sentinel watching from his window above the city. It was Christmas Eve, and James Ellison was watching for a small green car, anxiously awaiting the return of Blair Sandburg, friend and guide. The younger man was only an hour or so overdue, but the weather, while lovely, was potentially treacherous and growing more so as the evening progressed.

Choosing to turn away from the window, on the theory that watching was not helping, Jim sat in his usual spot on the sofa and tried to watch a bit of the news on CNN. Restlessly, he switched channels, peeking at the Weather Channel every so often. When he next consciously checked the time, Blair was now three hours late.

Giving in to his anxiety, Jim hit the speed dial for Blair's cell phone. A surprised young voice answered it. "Um, hello?"

Startled, Jim blurted out, "Who is this? Let me speak to Blair."

"Who?"

Trying to keep a hold of his temper, he tried again, "Blair Sandburg. That's his cell phone you answered. Let me speak to him."

Instead of answering him, Jim could hear the young voice speaking to someone clearly with him. "Damn, I never should have let Eddie sell me this thing. It's hot just like I was afraid of. Some dude is asking for someone whose phone it is."

A second voice answered the first, "Why'd you answer it, Fool? Hang up before he traces it or something. Hang up! Hang up!"

"No, wait," Jim tried to yell across the distance, but he was answered by only a dial tone. He tried to re-dial, but the child didn't answer again.

Now worried for real, Jim reached for the phone again and called the PD. Identifying himself, he asked the switchboard operator to connect him with whoever was manning the night desk in Major Crimes. He couldn't remember who had drawn Christmas Eve.

He was fortunate to reach Henri Brown. Brown accepted Jim's urgent request for an APB on Blair's car, and he agreed to make a few quick calls to other PDs between Seattle and Cascade. Jim didn't know where the child he'd reached was.

Another anxious hour went by in the Loft before the phone rang. It was Brown.

"Jim? I think I found him. A man matching Blair's description was mugged along with several other people in what looks like a gang initiation writ large. Several people were hit in a one hour period between 7 and 8 PM tonight. They were all knocked out and robbed. I think Blair's at Seattle Mercy Hospital. The number's 206-555-7734. That's hospital information."

"Thanks, H."

Call made, information matched, Jim packed a quick overnight bag for himself and his partner and headed for his truck. Several apprehensive hours later, he pulled into the parking lot of Mercy.

Jim hurried to the front desk in the Emergency Room, hastily pulling out photographs of his missing partner and copies of his power-of-attorney. Happy to have a name and further information on one of the unfortunate John Does, the ER personnel sent Jim upstairs to the room where Blair had been settled for the night.

After showing his documents again, Jim was able to speak with Blair's doctor. He learned that his friend had awoken a few times, groggy and unable to answer any questions completely. He had no wallet, so there was no way to contact anyone for him, and he was unable to do it himself. Although his concussion was somewhat severe, cat scans had ruled out any serious damage, and he was expected to recover completely over the next week. His only other injuries were some minor bruises and scrapes.

As Jim pulled up a chair and settled in to keep vigil, happy to have found his guide, but ruefully pondering the younger man's ill luck, he was disturbed by a stranger entering the room. As he moved to stand between the newcomer and the pale man on the bed, he was reassured by the flash of a badge.

"You're Detective Ellison, is that right? I'm Detective Peter Cole. I understand this vic…er…young man is your partner?"

"Yes. Well, he's actually an observer with Major Crimes who rides with me. I've come to think of him as my partner."

"I understand. One of the Forensic Techs rides with some of the guys in Homicide sometimes to gather information for some kind of paper he wants to write. Is that what Mr. Sandburg is doing?"

"Close enough," Jim thought. "Yes," he said. "What can you tell me about what happened to him? He met some friends to discuss a conference they were all thinking of attending, and he was supposed to be back in Cascade by 10:00."

"I'm in the Gangs Unit. It appears one of our friendly neighborhood 'associations' was holding a recruitment drive. They sent out six 'pledges' to knock out and rob someone, anyone apparently, and bring whatever the person had."

"But why Blair? He couldn't have looked like he was carrying anything impressive."

"Apparently speed counted more than the take. The four who brought back their 'winnings' first were to be let into the gang. We actually caught one of the 'perspectives,' who is only thirteen by the way, when his victim, a forty five year old woman, fought back after his initial blow didn't knock her out or even knock her down. He told us everything when his mother, coincidentally another forty five year old woman, met us at the station." The two men shared a look of disbelief.

A small groan was heard. Jim hastily turned his attention back to the pale man on the bed. Modulating his tone to be calm and reassuring, he spoke, "Chief? Can you hear me? It's Jim." Looking up at the other detective, Jim motioned to the door. Quick on the uptake, Cole went to find the doctor to tell him the patient was waking up.

"Jim? Where? Head hurts, Jim." Blair's eyes opened just enough to take in the sight of Jim leaning over him. He moved his hand restlessly, and Jim took the hint and picked it up, squeezing it reassuringly. "Missed Christmas?"

"No, Blair," Jim said softly, "It's still Christmas. The doctor's going to come in and then you can go back to sleep for a bit. Be good, and maybe they will let you come home tomorrow."

The doctor came in on cue and asked his patient the usual questions. This time, unlike when they had first met in the Emergency Room, the younger man was able to answer him, proving that he did, indeed, know his own name, the date, and the name of the president. He knew he was in the hospital and that he had spent the day in Seattle. This was good news to both the doctor and Jim, both of whom smiled at one another as the younger man faded back to sleep.

Late the next day, Jim drove home carefully and more slowly than usual, making sure not to jolt a still white-faced Blair. Blair had taken his pain pills before they left the hospital, but he had dozed only lightly and fretfully at first. Then, in his sleep, his near hand had moved slowly across the seat until he was able to grasp the edge of Jim's coat. This seemed to calm him, and he ceased all the little restless motions he had been making.

Twenty four hours after he was supposed to return home from his visit to Seattle, Blair was once again back in his protective Sentinel's territory. Three days later they had a belated Christmas dinner and happily exchanged presents, a sinfully soft lamb's wool sweater for Jim and a pair of sturdy hiking boots for Blair. The true warmth of the season, however, was found in the hug they shared, happy to be together, happy to be Home.