DISCLAIMER: Not mine, not even for my birthday.
No need to archive. Will be on my site and at CL.
WARNING: Shameless angst and smarm abound. Carolyn lovers, beware. I'm not nice to her in this. Merry Christmas all and to Annie, happy birthday, sis.
Set approximately one month after The Debt. Playing hard and fast with the timeline here. I have no idea when The Debt occurred but I recall it was cold.
"Jim, Im not ordering you to come. Im inviting you."
Jim scowled at his captain. "Sure sounded like an order to me," he muttered.
Simon sighed and sat back at his desk, holding a cup of coffee out to his friend as though it was a placatory offering. "Its just plain coffee," he said at Jims grimace. "Youve shied away from every party, Christmas or otherwise since your senses came online. Now that youre getting some control, its time you loosened up a little. Had some fun."
Jim sipped his coffee while he considered his reply. Finally, setting the cup on the desk, he replied. "Its still early days, Simon. I still dont have a whole lot of control. And a Christmas party: loud music, alcohol, all that food, drunks "
"That too," Jim added glumly. "She doesnt seem to get that were divorced, and were a hell of a lot friendlier now than we ever were married. Id like to keep it that way."
"Come for a couple of hours," Simon suggested. "If it gets too much, go home. Better still, bring Sandburg with you. Maybe he can help you keep your senses under control so you can enjoy yourself."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Youre inviting Blair? I got the feeling you didnt like him very much."
"The kids okay, Jim," Simon replied. He frowned. "Hes just too too much, sometimes." He leaned forward and fixed Jim with a steady gaze. "Look, this is my first Christmas without Joan or Daryl. I dont want to spend it alone. There wont be a lot of people and with me as mine host, I doubt anybodys going to get too drunk or too loud."
Jim gave a theatrical sigh. "Youre not going to give in, are you, sir?"
Simon grinned. "Nope."
"All right. Well be there."
"Me and Sandburg."
"Hey, Jim." Blair slung his backpack under the desk and slumped into the chair at the detectives side.
Jim raised his eyes from the computer screen and gave the observer a wry smile. "Hey yourself. Looking a little rough around the edges there, Chief. Who was it last night?"
Blair rolled his eyes. "Last night was final grading and at 6AM I woke up and realized Id fallen asleep at my desk." He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, wincing.
"Youve been making a habit of that lately." Jim shook his head but his face showed no sympathy.
"Yeah, well, after stakeouts three nights in a row and lectures every morning, I cant really remember the last time I saw my bed."
Jims face softened a little. "Maybe you need to back off a little riding with me, Chief," he began. "I mean, your dissertations important, I know that, but that doesnt mean you have to tag along on every job I do."
"I thought I was there to back you up, keep you from zoning, help you to focus-"
Jim held up a hand to stop the flow of words. "Yes to all of the above, Sandburg and youre doing a great job, but somethings got to give. After the week weve had, Im ready to drop and youre carrying twice the load."
Blair shrugged, not prepared to capitulate. "Itll be Christmas soon. Ill have a break from school then."
Jim stared at him a moment longer then sighed and handed Blair a file. "Go through that. Run down any current addresses on the list of suspects."
They worked diligently in silence for a half-hour or so, before Blair yawned, stretched and stood. "Im going to the break room to get some juice. You want anything?"
"Snickers bar," Jim said without looking up. "I didnt get breakfast this morning."
"Theres an apple in my backpack," Blair offered.
"Youre not my dietician, Sandburg," Jim said warningly, fishing in his pocket for change.
Blair accepted the coins and backed away, both hands held up in a defensive gesture. "Whatever, man. Theyre your arteries."
"Exactly. Oh, by the way " Blair stopped at the door. "Simons invited us to his place tonight for a Christmas party. You free?"
Blair felt a blush of pleasure warm his face. In the five or so months hed been riding with Jim, Blair hadnt got the impression that the captain liked him at all. "Umm, I think so."
Jim nodded. "Good. His ex is taking their son to California for the holidays and he doesnt want to be alone."
"You sure he wants me to come?"
Jim snorted. "Im sure. I tried begging off. Since my senses came back online, I usually work the holiday shifts. Parties just give me a headache. Simon figures you can help me keep everything toned down."
Cool, the angel sitting on Blairs left shoulder said with not a little pride. Simons finally figured out youre more than just an annoying little geek.
Right, the devil on Blairs right shoulder responded. Its not as though youve been invited for your scintillating company, Sandburg. Youre just useful, thats all."
"Sandburg?" Jims voice pulled him from the depressing inner dialogue. "Im getting hungry here."
Shaking the negative thoughts off with ease borne of years of practice and an innate belief in the kindness of people, Blair made his way toward the break room, idly jingling the coins in his hand. He was about to enter when he heard his name spoken from inside the room.
"Did you hear about Sandburg?"
It was a male voice, but not one that Blair recognized. The person who replied was easily identifiable though.
"That Simons invited him to the party tonight. Yes, I heard." Carolyn Plummer sounded affronted.
"Im sorry, Caro, I know Jims your ex, and hes a great guy, but it was bad enough when that kid came waltzing into Major Crime acting as though he had a gold shield in his back pocket. Now hes going to be joining in all the staff celebrations like he actually belongs here."
Blair froze, feeling his face beginning to burn. He wanted to leave well, run away actually and never look back but his feet seemed to be glued to the carpet.
"How do you think I feel?" Carolyn replied. "I mean hes a harmless enough little geek, but a couple of months into his ride-along by the way, dont they only run for ninety days? Anyway, hes here a couple of months, and hes not only riding with Jim, calling him his partner, but hes moved into *our* apartment."
The man chuckled. "Careful, Caro, youre sounding jealous."
Carolyn snorted, a decidedly un-ladylike sound. "Jealous, no! Just pissed and concerned for Jim. Jim was always one for bringing home strays. I remember when he got caught up in that Big Brother thing "
"Danny Choi was a good cop," the man interrupted.
"Agreed, but I got sick to death of spending every weekend with him. Anyway, about Sandburg, he was meant to stay at the loft for a week. One week. Hes been there for over a month."
"You sure hes sleeping in the spare room?"
"Dont be disgusting, Ray," Carolyn snapped and Blair suddenly put a face to the voice. Ray Berry, a detective hed had little to do with, but who seemed to think he knew Blair pretty well. His legs finally decided to move and he backed away, feeling sweat break out on his face. Turning, he hurried back into the bullpen, trying desperately to calm his breathing and his hammering heart.
Back in the bullpen, Blair tried to avoid Jims searching gaze as he sat down.
"Wheres my breakfast?" Jim asked.
"Oh, sorry. I, um, I got sidetracked." Blair wiped his sweaty hands on his pants legs and fumbled in his pocket for Jims cash but Jim waved it away when he finally held the coins out.
"Forget it," he said gruffly. "Were almost done here. Well grab an early lunch."
Blair nodded and immersed himself in his work once more, though all the while he was uncomfortably aware of Jims close scrutiny. His mind was desperately trying to come up with a solution to his predicament and when Carolyn walked up to Jims desk, he had it.
She gave Blair a thin smile as she leaned over Jims shoulder to point out some notes in the report. "Hi Blair. How are you?"
Blair smiled back, putting as much friendliness into his voice as he could though he was sure Jim could detect the quaver in it. "Hey, Caro lyn. Im good."
She straightened but kept a hand on Jims shoulder. "Settling in at the apartment all right?"
Blair stole a quick glance at Jim. This had become a sticking point for Blair. Jim had told him he could stay for a week, but once the time was up, the detective had not mentioned anything to Blair about moving out, and Blair had to admit, hed avoided the subject himself, dreading Jims response. The truth was, he loved living at the loft. For the first time in his life, he felt secure and settled. "Im going home," suddenly had a warm and welcome ring to it. "Things are fine," Blair answered vaguely.
Carolyn laughed but it sounded brittle. "Jims a pain about tidiness, arent you, Jimmy?"
Jim grinned but looked as uncomfortable with the situation as Blair. "Sandburg knows the house rules." There was a heavy silence. "Anyway," Jim continued, standing up and reaching for his jacket, "weve got witnesses to interview. Ill see you later, Caro." Bending slightly, Jim pressed a quick kiss to her cheek.
"See you both at Simons tonight then," Carolyn called as they reached the door.
"Actually, youll see Jim there but not me." Blair saw Carolyns eyes widen at his remark and then meet his, and it was obvious she knew hed heard her conversation with Berry. He gave Jim an apologetic shrug. "Sorry, man, I forgot. I was invited to have a few drinks with some of my friends from the U."
Jim nodded and ushered him out the door. He didnt speak until they were in the elevator, heading down to the parking garage. "Guess Ill call Simon and tell him I cant make it," he said, staring at the polished metal control panel.
"No reason you cant go alone," Blair replied. "Like you said, you dont need me along all the time, and this is just a party, Jim. A few friends, a couple of drinks and some disgustingly unhealthy food. Youll have a great time."
"It wont be the same," Jim said quietly. He turned to face Blair before the younger man could respond and crossed his arms over his chest. "If you didnt want to go, why didnt you just say so?"
"I wanted to," Blair protested, exiting the elevator as the doors slid open. He waited till Jim joined him before continuing. "I just forgot I had other plans. Im whacked, man. Ill probably make an early night of it, anyway."
Jim said nothing, just unlocked Blairs door before striding around to do the same to the drivers door and climbed in.
As they pulled out of the garage, Blair spoke again. "So, youll go?"
"I dont seem to have much choice, do I?"
Blair couldnt wait to get out of the apartment that evening. The rest of the day had been charged with tension and Jim barely spoke to him, except on case matters. Once they arrived home, Blair hurried into the bathroom and took a couple of deep breaths before stepping under the relaxing warm spray from the shower. He wondered how long he should drive around before it would be safe to go back to the loft. He had nowhere to go, and as down as he felt, didnt want to see anyone at all.
When Jim headed toward the bathroom, Blair poked his head out of his bedroom. "Ill probably leave before youre out, man. What time are you leaving?" he asked as casually as he could.
Jim glanced at his watch. "Twenty minutes or so. Simon said the party starts at seven-thirty."
Blair nodded. "Have a good time, Jim."
Jims reply was terse. "You too."
Jim was halfway to Simons house before the niggling concerns hed had all day finally coalesced into coherent thought. Jim had been tuned into his guide since he'd returned empty-handed from the break room, disturbed by Blairs sudden and uncharacteristic nervousness and reticence. Intuition and understanding suddenly kicked in and he turned the truck around and headed for home, making a quick apologetic phone call to Simon on the way.
As he expected, he could hear Blairs heartbeat in the apartment when he entered the elevator. Quietly unlocking the front door, Jim stepped inside and tracked Blair to where he stood, outside on the balcony. The grad student seemed lost in thought, his arms wrapped around his slightly shivering body and he appeared not to have noticed Jims entrance. Jim stood in the living room and watched him for a moment. "Aww, Chief," he whispered, a lump in his throat threatening to choke him.
To his credit, and perhaps given his experience of working with Jim, Blair only jumped a little when Jim stepped out onto the balcony. "Forget something?" Blair asked, his eyes darting around the area as though the outdoor chairs or table could give him inspiration.
"Nah." Jim walked over and joined his partner at the balcony. He rested his forearms on the wall and gave Blair a sidelong glance. "I know you said you were having an early night but eight oclock has got to be record for you, Chief."
Blair seemed to slump in on himself. He mirrored Jims pose, his own eyes on the darkened horizon. "Didnt feel like going," he said quietly.
"Me either," Jim replied.
"Theyre your friends, Jim," Blair countered.
"So are you."
Blair turned to Jim, his eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "They dont want me there," he said softly. "I dont fit in."
Jim grasped his partners shoulders. "You fit in where youre meant to at my side."
Blair shook his head but seemed uncharacteristically lost for words, so Jim went on. "I said earlier it wouldnt be the same without you there. I meant it. I was an idiot saying what I did. I made it sound like the only reason you were invited at all was to be the good little guide and help me. But I didnt ask you to come because I felt sorry for you, or because you owe me for letting you live here, or because I need your help with my senses. I wanted you there because youre my friend, my partner, and thats what Christmas is about, for me at least. Being with family and friends. I haven't had too many Christmases lately, Chief, not just because of my senses but because I had no one I cared enough about to share it with. And anyone who doesnt want my friend around is no friend of mine."
Blair stared at him, a solitary tear snaking down one cheek, nodding in gratitude and understanding. "What about Simon?"
"Simon's a good enough friend to understand, and he hopes come New Year, we'll both join him."
"I'd like that." Blair reached up and chafed at his arms, smiling suddenly. "Its freezing out here. You want to go inside and get warm?"
Jim turned them both, draping an arm around Blairs shoulders. "I think Ive got the makings for Egg Nog in the kitchen and theres got to be a good action movie on the TV."
"Its A Wonderful Lifes on cable," Blair said hopefully.
"Dont push your luck, Sandburg."
December 21st 2003