Trimmed in Tinsel by Chrys

Trimmed in Tinsel - Chrys

Blair was humming. Again. Jim sighed, inaudibly even to himself. He'd tune it out, or dial it down, or something... Except. It was Blair. And even at the times he was most exasperated with his guide, he couldn't bring himself to ignore Blair Sandburg.

The sentinel really did hate Christmas, especially Christmas music. More and more every year. He could remember loving it, being excitedly happy, in an understated adult way, the first time he heard Santa Claus is Coming to Town each December. But it seemed that Santa came visiting earlier and earlier, and he'd heard his first Christmas carol before Halloween this year.

And as far as peace on earth and good will toward men? Run that one by all the beat officers on the domestic dispute patrol over the holidays.

Anyway...

"Sandburg? Aren't you Jewish?"

Blair looked up, his eyes big over the glasses he wore halfway down his nose, and Jim felt his body tighten as Blair smiled at him. Down, boy, he warned himself.

"Well, yeah, Jim. You know that." The grad student frowned slightly. "What's up?"

Jim shrugged. "You just keep humming, and I know it's a Christmas carol. Can't place which one, but I know it is one."

Blair shrugged, "Christmas music is kind of ubiquitous this time of year. Even us Jewboys get to know some of it." He set down the article he'd been reading, stretching. "Didn't know I was humming, though, sorry."

Jim tore his eyes away from the skin revealed where Blair's shirt had ridden up as he stretched. "It's okay," he forced out. "I think it's more that I can't figure out which song it is than anything else."

"Hmmm." Blair studied him, his eyes cool. "And nothing to do with the fact that the holiday season drives you nuts?"

Jim looked away. "What makes you say that?"

Blair laughed softly, picking up his article again. "Experience, Jim. That's all."

He was humming again within ten minutes. This time Jim just ignored it, allowing the tones of Blair's voice to wash over him. It was safer that way, after all. It had taken every one of those ten minutes to slow his heartbeat.

*****

Blair really hadn't realized that he was humming. But Jim's reaction had been, well, extremely interesting, to say the least. Oh, he'd known all about Jim's aversion to the holiday music they heard everywhere. It was hard to miss that. Two years of being around the sentinel during the holidays was far more than enough to let Blair know when to duck and cover.

No, it was the other reaction Blair found fascinating. The one that had left Jim breathing deeply as he fought not to squirm on the couch. He found himself wondering if it was repeatable. If he wanted it to be repeatable. He had a good thing, here. Working with Jim, being friends with Jim - well, it was everything he'd ever wanted and then some. Did he really want to mess that up?

And could he bear not to take the chance that it could be even better?

Conflicted about which way he should go, but with the vague beginnings of a plan, Blair buried himself in his article again, the rituals described quickly claiming his attention. He was only dimly aware when he began to hum again.

*****

Over the next few days, Jim found that Blair was humming almost all the time. It wasn't always Christmas songs, but more often than not it was, and he growled and grumbled appropriately. But he was aware, deep inside, that he didn't really hate it all that much. Or at all, even. The mere fact that it was Blair, Blair's voice stealing its way inside his head, made it all okay. Maybe even nice. A little bit. Perhaps.

Okay, damnit, he would admit it to himself, at least. He liked hearing Blair humming, and even liked the Christmas carols. Still hated the holidays, though. That hadn't changed. It wouldn't change, either.

So how had he found himself lugging a tree up the stairs to the loft? Oh, right. Blair thought it would be nice. And why was he digging through the storage room to find the boxes of ornaments? Same answer. The loft smelled fresh and clean, the tree full of life due to the carefully wrapped root ball. The lights twinkled, Blair having decided that he was less likely to zone on lights that kept shutting off, and the glass balls gleamed back bright reflections onto the tinsel Blair had insisted on.

The Jewish man wanted a Christmas tree why? He'd just laughed and patted Jim's cheek when the sentinel had asked. "Because I do," was all the answer he gave, and Jim had given in with a subdued snarl.

Somehow it was working, and as they sat on the couch, the lights and TV off and looked at the tree, Jim felt a cautious happiness that he'd almost forgotten he could feel. It had been years since he'd looked forward to Christmas morning, but this year he could barely wait for Blair to open his gifts.

"I'd forgotten it could be like this," he whispered, not even knowing he'd spoken until he heard Blair's quiet reply.

"It should always be like this, Jim."

"Yeah, it should," he answered. "But it isn't."

"Why? What changed?"

Jim shrugged. "I grew up," he said without thinking, then shook his head. "No, that's part of it, but not all of it."

Blair was silent and Jim sighed. "Christmas was special. Even after Mom left." He wasn't sure why he was saying this, but in the quiet darkness it felt right. "It was the one time of the year that Dad didn't push us, or play us against each other. We didn't get the same things - hell, we wouldn't have wanted the same things - but what we did get was perfect. It was," he swallowed. "It was clear that he'd spent time thinking about what we wanted, what we liked, and not just gotten Sally to get us something. Some years he even wrapped the presents himself."

He laughed quietly, the memories bringing more joy than heartache for the first time in years. "There was always something special for each of us, and we always knew which it was because it would be covered, absolutely covered, with tinsel. Dad would watch while we opened our presents, and the phone never rang. Not on Christmas morning. I suppose he turned it off."

"That sounds great."

Jim smiled. "Yeah. It was."

"So what changed?"

"I really don't know. I think, when I went off to college, and then later the Army, that it just wasn't the same anymore. And then, of course, Christmas is a pretty shitty time for a cop."

"All those family fights," Blair said softly.

"Yeah. Made it seem not so special. And then it just got worse and worse every year."

"Mmm. It's a great time for a rebirth, though."

Jim snorted. "Some New Age spiel, Sandburg?"

Blair laughed. "Not New Age at all, Jim. One of the oldest traditions there is."

The sentinel didn't reply and the two men sat together in the dark, watching the twinkling lights on the tree, in a comfortable silence, until Blair began to hum. Jim still couldn't name the song. It didn't matter. He simply enjoyed it.

*****

He wasn't wrong. Blair was sure of it. Jim Ellison wanted this, wanted him, as much as he wanted the sentinel. Yet he was still uncertain of whether this was the right thing to do. He had planned it, he had agonized over it, and he wanted it. More than anything he'd wanted in a long time, he wanted this to work.

If it didn't... He firmed his lips, staring at his face in the mirror. It would. It had to.

Leaving the bathroom, he headed into the kitchen, smiling at the sight of Jim in his apron, stirring eggs in the pan. "Good morning," he greeted.

"Morning, Chief," the sentinel answered. "Coffee's on. Want to make some toast?"

"Sure." Blair pulled out a loaf of bread, dropping two slices in the toaster before pouring himself a mug of coffee and inhaling the fragrant steam. "You used the good stuff," he said appreciatively.

"Don't tell Simon," Jim replied. "I like this Resurrection coffee better than anything he's given us."

"So do I," Blair agreed, reaching for the butter as the toast popped up. Working together, the two men soon had breakfast ready and on the table. They ate leisurely, each stealing glances at the area under the tree when they thought the other wasn't looking. What had been an empty place the night before was filled with bright paper and ribbons.

Finishing his food, Blair leaned back in his chair, watching as Jim savored the last few bites of the bacon he'd surprised the sentinel with the day before. Almost unknowing, he began to hum. Jim tilted his head and after a moment, he smiled widely and snapped his fingers. "Got it!"

"Got what?"

"That song. You've been humming it for weeks and I finally figured out which one it is."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "If I'd known you were trying to guess, I'd have told you."

Jim grinned at him. "That would have taken all the fun out of it."

Blair laughed. "I guess so. So what is it? I'll let you know if you're right."

"Oh, I'm right," Jim said confidently. "It's 'Do You See What I See'."

"Mmmm,"Blair nodded, taking a sip of his coffee. "You're right. Seemed appropriate, after all."

Jim narrowed his eyes at him. "You were doing it on purpose." Blair just laughed. Jim scowled, then joined in the laughter. "I get a reward, then," he said after a minute.

Blair looked pointedly at the bacon plate, making Jim shake his head. "Nope," he said. "That was just because it's Christmas - you said so last night."

"So I did." Blair set his cup on the table. "What kind of reward are you thinking of?"

The sentinel hesitated for a moment, and Blair felt his heart skip a beat. Would he...? Then he pushed his chair back and stood, lifting his plate and heading for the sink.

"I get to open my presents first, Chief."

"Yeah, yeah," Blair grumbled, starting to clear his own dishes, pushing down the disappointment he felt. "If you say so."

"Oh, I say so, Sandburg," Jim laughed. "I say so."

*****

They had opened their presents, taking turns despite Jim's 'reward'. Paper lay on the floor around Blair, a full trash bag near the sentinel testifying to his need to clean up as he went. He looked over at his guide, about to open his mouth and tell Blair to clean up, then stopped as he saw the other man's bright smile as he examined the gifts Jim had given him. It could wait.

It wasn't Christmas every day, after all. And for the first time in a long while, Jim regretted that.

He looked down at his own neat stack, reaching out and touching the warm sweater Blair had found for him. Hand-knitted alpaca in natural shades, the soft warmth caressed his fingertips, and he smiled as he imagined wearing it. The smile faded slightly as he looked over at Blair.

He loved his presents, all of them, and he'd enjoyed picking out the ones he'd given to his guide. He just wished he'd had the courage to give him one more. He knew - he thought - that Blair would like it. Would like him. But what if he was wrong?

He shook his head, closing his eyes to block out the sight of the man he wanted so badly. If he was wrong, Blair would leave. And he couldn't take that chance.

Do You See What I See? he thought. No, Blair didn't see what Jim saw. Never would. But he saw some things so much more clearly than the sentinel ever would. And with that vision he had given Jim back something he'd thought gone forever - the joy of Christmastime. Jim wouldn't - couldn't - mess that up. No matter what it cost him.

"Jim?'

Blair's voice was quiet, almost hesitant. Jim frowned. "Yeah, Chief?" he said, not opening his eyes.

"There's one more gift for you. If," Blair swallowed, the sound loud to sentinel ears. "If you want it."

Jim opened his eyes, blinking at the sight before him. "If I want it?" he choked out incredulously. "How could I not?"

Blair sat before him, covered with tinsel. His own very, very special gift.

Jim couldn't wait to unwrap him. God, he loved Christmas.

The end.

Now go the the sequel, Never Let Go.

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Acknowledgments: Always for Beth. Thank you to Patt for the cover art.