NOTES: This is my annual Christmas story. For once, no owies for Jim or Blair, just a little angst and friendship.
Thanks to Annie for the beta. Merry Christmas all and to my twin sis, Annie, Happy Birthday!
Blair hurriedly taped the last side of the wrapping paper down and shoved the package under his bed as the phone rang. Trotting out into the living room, he reached for the phone and answered, at the same time, stretching to work the kinks from his back. "Blair Sandburg. Merry Christmas," he said brightly.
"Blair, this is Monty at the Fifth Street shelter. How are you, man?"
Blair smiled. Monty was an old friend from his college days, though over the past few years, they only seemed to catch up with each other at Christmas. "Monty! Good to hear your voice. How's Carol and the kids?"
"Growing like weeds. The kids, I mean, not Carol." Monty chuckled. "She hears me say that, I'll be sleeping on the couch for a month."
Blair laughed along with him. "Carol's a beautiful, voluptuous woman. You're lucky you saw her first, man. Now what can I do for you?"
"I know you said you were busy this Christmas, Blair but we just don't have the volunteers we used to have showing up to help with Christmas lunch. I don't suppose you could spare me an hour or two of your time "
Blair felt torn. He'd helped out at the shelter every Christmas for years now but this was his first Christmas with Jim and he really wanted to share this special time with him. He hadn't exactly asked Jim what his plans were but Blair had decided to go ahead with his own arrangements and worry about it later. "Monty, I'm sorry, I just can't this year." He winced at the heavy sigh that issued from the receiver. "Look, how about I come over in the morning for a few hours? I can at least give you a hand to set up. I'll ask around at the university and the PD, see if I can find you a few more volunteers."
"Sure, buddy, that'd be great. Seven am too early for you?"
Blair shuddered. There went his opportunity to sleep in. "Seven's fine, Monty. I'll see you then." He hung up the phone just as Jim walked in the front door. No time like the present, Blair decided. Walking into the kitchen, he pulled two beers from the fridge and pushed one over the counter to Jim. "Hey, Jim, how was your day?"
Jim looked tired and he definitely had a headache, Blair could tell. After working and living together for several months now, Blair could pick up pretty much every mood of his partner's. He was an observer, after all. Jim shrugged. "Just more of the same shit Christmas always brings, Chief. Too much booze, not enough money."
Blair took a drink from his bottle and licked the froth from his upper lip. "I was wondering what you're doing for Christmas Day?"
Jim twisted the cap from his bottle and drank deeply before replying. "Working."
Blair felt unaccountably depressed. "Oh, I thought we could do something "
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Something?"
"You know, buy a turkey, have lunch."
"Oh, sorry. Like I said, I'm working."
"Right." Blair gave what he hoped was a nonchalant shrug. "Doesn't matter."
"I thought you'd be spending Christmas with your mother."
"Nah, she's going away " Blair bit his tongue before he could add the word 'again'. The fact was he and Naomi had spent only a handful of Christmases together since he was a teenager. It was the reason he'd started helping out Monty at the shelter. It gave Blair a good feeling to help out others less fortunate than himself and at least he was around other people, not sitting at home alone. He'd really wanted this year with Jim but At least he could call Monty back, tell him he was free. Pushing his concerns away, as was his custom, Blair focused on brighter things. Ordering Jim to the bathroom for a hot shower, Blair set about cooking dinner for the weary sentinel.
"What do you mean Jim's not working Christmas Day?" Blair asked in surprise.
Simon Banks frowned at Blair then shrugged. "I mean just what I said, Jim's not working Christmas Day. You want to tell me why this is your business?"
Blair sank into a chair. "It's not, I guess. I just thought Jim and I could spend the day together but when I asked he said he was working."
"Maybe he just didn't want to hurt your feelings and say no outright," Simon suggested. At the glum expression on Blair's face, he hurried on. "All I mean is, Jim's never been one for parties and celebrating. Says it gives him a headache."
"So what do you think he's doing?"
Simon groaned. "How the hell should I know, Sandburg? I have enough problems every year trying to organize time to spend with Daryl, bartering with Joan to give up one afternoon or morning every year. Maybe he's spending Christmas with his father."
Blair shook his head. "I don't think so. I get the impression they don't really get on." He frowned. "I wonder -"
"Sandburg!" Simon cut Blair's musings off gruffly. "It's really none of your business, or mine. I know you share Jim's apartment but he's still entitled to a private life."
Blair felt his face heat in embarrassment. Simon was right. In fact, he wasn't so much sharing Jim's apartment as renting a room and if Jim didn't want to spend Christmas with him, well, that was fair enough. He couldn't help feeling a small twinge of hurt at the thought though. "You're right," he said finally. He stood and held up the flyers in his hand. "Is it okay if I put one of these up on the bulletin board? The Fifth Street Shelter could use some extra help."
Simon waved him away. "Knock yourself out, Sandburg."
By the time Christmas Eve arrived, Blair was feeling about as low as it was possible to get. He ducked out of celebratory drinks with his fellow TA's and did likewise with the Major Crime crew. Jim, surprisingly, was going to O'Leary's Bar with the rest of the guys, and when he heard that, Blair had almost changed his mind and gone along. Simon's words came back to him. Jim didn't want to spend Christmas with him, had lied to him about what he was doing, so it was probably best to stay out of Jim's way entirely. Besides, he had an early start in the morning, helping out at the shelter.
Dejectedly, he drove home and parked himself on the sofa with a book until he couldn't take the silence any more. Turning on the television, he channel-surfed aimlessly, the cheery Christmas programs, like the Christmas tree that stood by the balcony doors, its boughs ablaze with twinkling lights, just making him glummer. What was the use of a Christmas tree, he thought, if you weren't going to celebrate Christmas? There were a few gaily wrapped packages beneath the tree, including, Blair couldn't help noticing, one for himself. He'd dutifully brought his own gifts out and placed them with Jim's, wondering dismally at the time, when he'd get the chance to give them to their recipients. Eventually, the hypnotic sound of Christmas carols sent him drifting toward sleep.
A gentle shaking of his shoulder woke Blair from a restless slumber. He opened heavy eyelids, squinting blearily into the darkness that was punctuated by the rhythmic blinking of the lights on the Christmas tree. "Huh?"
"Come on, Sandburg. Why don't you head off to your own bed? You'll get a crick in your neck, sleeping like that," Jim said.
The hint of brandy, spicy on Jim's breath, and the soft, easy smile on his face indicated that Jim had imbibed more than he normally would. Apart from the occasional beer, Jim wasn't much of a drinker, not liking the lack of control it caused him with his senses.
Blair sat up and stretched, wincing then rubbing at the stiffness in his neck. "Hope you didn't drive home," he said around a yawn.
"Nope, Joel was the designated driver," Jim replied as he stood.
Blair remained seated on the couch for a little longer, watching Jim go about his nightly routine of checking everything was in order and locking up the apartment for the night. Anal, it might be and he'd as much as told Jim so on one or two occasions, in a joking way, of course, but it was also comforting knowing that Jim's watchman duties included Blair in his circle of protection.
Finally standing, Blair wearily made his way to his bedroom but paused at the doorway, torn about asking Jim about Christmas Day. He didn't want Jim to think he'd been snooping and he didn't want Jim to be embarrassed about having to come up with some excuse why he didn't want to spend the day with Blair. Blair certainly didn't want that feeling of rejection. Eventually, he just said softly, "Night, Jim. Merry Christmas," and went to bed.
Having phoned Monty the night before to tell him he could help with Christmas lunch after all, Blair didn't bother to set his alarm, knowing he'd be up in plenty of time to be at the shelter by eleven am. He was hoping Jim would wake him earlier than that with a cheery Merry Christmas greeting, and that they could at least have breakfast together and exchange gifts before Jim headed out to wherever it was he was going.
Blair was disappointed. The loft was silent when he got up and when he climbed halfway up the stairs, he could see that Jim's bed was already made, its occupant obviously long gone. With a sigh that sounded whiny to his own ears, Blair made himself a forlorn Christmas breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese and got ready to go to the shelter.
It was snowing when he headed out to his car, fat white flakes drifting down, just enough to make a picture perfect white Christmas, but for Blair, in his current mood, it simply meant grumbling about the icy trail dribbling under the collar of his jacket, and the fact that he couldn't find his gloves again. Getting into the car, he turned on the radio and fiddled with the dial, determined to find some festive cheer deep within him before he reached the shelter and Monty had him kicked out for impersonating Ebenezer Scrooge.
Monty was out the back, emptying scraps into a dumpster when Blair pulled his car into a parking space. Climbing out, he pasted a smile on his face and hurried over to his friend, rubbing his hands together in an attempt to warm them. "Hey, Monty, how are you?"
"Good to see you, Blair," Monty replied, giving Blair a friendly slap on the back. "You did wonders getting us some extra help. I really appreciate it."
Blair felt his bad mood thawing. "No problem."
Monty led the way inside and Blair breathed a sigh of pleasure as the warmth of the interior enveloped him. Several people were bustling about, setting up tables and decorations; others piled donated gifts for the children under a Christmas tree. Many gave Blair a friendly wave and he was pleased to recognize several from either the university or the PD. He felt his mood brightening further, a familiar and long absent pleasure returning. "So," he said, turning to Monty, "where do you want me?"
"Kitchen," Monty said decisively, steering Blair in that direction.
Blair jokingly made a face. "KP again? Every year!"
Monty chuckled and shook his head. "I've put a lot of the newcomers in here. You get to boss them around, seeing you're such an expert at KP." He led the way into the kitchen and stopped in front of the long food preparation counter than stood in the center of the room. "Potatoes," he said firmly, unaware that Blair had stopped dead in the doorway. "Here's your partner for the day. You can toss for whether you peel or chop. This is -"
Jim Ellison looked up, his astonished face a match for Blair's. "Sandburg? What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Blair replied, finally approaching his partner.
Monty beamed. "You two know each other? Great." He looked at his watch. "Let's get a move on, people. We've got a lot of hungry mouths lining up in just a few hours." Giving Blair a thumbs up, he hurried out of the room.
Blair stood locked in place. Mechanically he took the peeler Jim held out to him. "My hands are cramping," Jim said by way of explanation. "I've been peeling potatoes since eight o'clock."
Blair nodded then moved around to stand beside Jim. Suddenly struck dumb, he picked up a potato and began to peel it.
"You didn't answer my question," Jim said, reaching across Blair to grab a knife. "What are you doing here?"
Blair flashed him a quick glance. "You said you were working."
Jim shrugged. "You don't call this working? I just didn't say where. You?"
"Monty and I go way back. I help him out every year. Naomi isn't often around at Christmas."
Jim stopped chopping and stared at him. "That's why the lunch invitation."
"Well, yeah." Blair tucked a lock of hair behind his ear. "Not because I didn't want to be alone well, that too, but it's our first Christmas and I thought it'd be nice to spend it together."
"It was a nice thought," Jim said.
Blair looked up, a flush of pleasure coloring his cheeks. "Yeah?"
Jim nodded then nudged Blair back to the task at hand. "Monty had a problem with a street gang a few weeks ago, a break off from the gang involved in the drug lab you used to live next door to."
"You never mentioned it."
Jim shrugged. "It wasn't a big deal and you've been pretty busy with school Anyway, while I was down here, sorting that out, he mentioned that he was having trouble getting volunteers to help Christmas Day. Usually I work, let the guys with families have the day off. This seemed pretty important and Simon said there was a full roster so I asked for the day off."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Red tinged the tips of Jim's ears. "Didn't need broadcasting. It's no big deal." He waved his knife around at the bustling group of workers. "Everyone here is donating their time, including you."
Blair smiled again. "This is great, man. We get to spend the day together after all."
Jim grinned back at him. "I guess we do." He motioned again at the potatoes. "Those potatoes aren't going to peel themselves, Chief!"
Once the lunch rush was over, Jim and Blair sat at one end of a long table, along with their fellow helpers, nursing mugs of coffee, replete from generous servings of Christmas fare.
"It was a great day," Blair said happily.
"It's not over yet," Jim said, glancing at his watch. "It's only four o'clock." He reached back and grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. "I've got a secret recipe for egg nog, handed down through the Ellison generations. What say we go home and open some presents?"
"Sounds like a plan," Blair agreed. He stood and walked around the table to join his partner, pleasure uplifting him when Jim's arm wrapped around his shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Jim."
"Merry Christmas, Chief."