Spending Limit - Scribe

The Week After Thanksgiving - The Loft

"I'm allowed to spend how much on your present?"

Blair shut off the laptop, closing it, and turned a bland look on Jim. "Twenty."

Jim dropped onto the sofa beside him, throwing an arm around his shoulders. "And where is the decimal point in this figure?"

Blair kissed him briefly, then stood up. "In the usual place, Big Guy. Twenty bucks, no more."

"But Blair..."

"I mean it. That's all I'm going to be able to spend on you. The 'puter crashing really put a hole in my finances, and you know it. Next year you can do the Gotrocks bit if you want to, I won't mind."

"But this is our first Christmas together."

"I've been living here for four years, Ellison. Haven't you noticed?"

"Well, yeah. But this is the first year we..."

Blair sat back down, on his lap this time. He wrapped his arms around Jim's neck, leaning to press his forehead against Jim's. "Teasing, Jim, teasing. I understand." What Jim meant was that it was their first Christmas together, as a couple. "And yeah, it's special, but I don't need some big, expensive present. I've already got what I want." He wiggled his rump against Jim's crotch suggestively. "Or I will have in a few minutes."

They kissed some more. It got wet. As Blair was licking a trail to Jim's ear, the sentinel murmured, "So, that's twenty dollars for each present I get you..."

"Jim!" Blair bit his earlobe.

"Ow! Teasing, Sandburg, teasing!"

"Yeah, right." Blair sucked apologetically on the nipped lobe.

Jim groaned happily. "Does that price limit include sales tax?"

"Jim..."

"What about gift wrapping? Suppose I have to have it delivered, what about shipping and handling?"

"Christ, and you think I rationalize these things. I'm not gonna check your receipts, man, but you know damn good and well what I mean. Now, shut up and kiss me."

"Yes, sir."

Two Weeks Before Christmas - Simon's Office

"I'm telling you, Simon, he's being totally unreasonable."

"Jim, I'd have thought you'd be relieved. My last lover expected a trip to the Bahamas over Easter."

Pause.

"You have a lover?"

"Not any more. And I didn't go to the Bahamas, either. What are you sweating?"

"It's just limiting. I want to give him something that tells him how I really feel about him."

"Look, Jim, despite what the DeBeers company would have you think, you don't have to give diamonds for every important occasion or you're a piker. You want to show Sandburg how you feel? Give him something personal, something you know he'll like. Have it say that you pay attention to his tastes."

"You sure that a diamond ear stud wouldn't be better?"

"Save it for your anniversary."

One Week Before Christmas, The Kitchen

"Morning, Chief."

"Grunt."

"Yes, I'm fine. Thank you for asking." Blair, hair in his face shuffled to the cabinet, opened it, and began to sort through the boxes, bottles and jars. "What are you looking for?"

"Uh?" More sorting and rearranging.

"Chief, you've moved the same stuff three times. What are you rooting for?"

A deep sigh. "My tea."

"It's right in front of you, in the box."

"No, that's my evening tea. It relaxes me. I need my morning tea, to wake up. And I'm out of it. I was kinda hoping I'd, like, dropped a bag and missed it."

"So that's why you've been the walking dead this last week. Well, get some more."

"Not that easy man." He wearily poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table, chin in his hand. "The health food store quit carrying it. Said there wasn't enough of a demand."

"Can't you get it somewhere else?"

"I've been trying, but it's kinda rare. No luck so far. I'll have to start calling out-of-town shops, if I get a chance." He sighed again. "Man, I almost hate having a favorite product. It's a guarantee that they'll stop making it. It's like the word goes out. 'Hey, Sandburg likes this! Quick, stop production.'"

Jim smiled sympathetically, watching his lover sip the coffee, but his eyes were thoughtful.

Christmas Eve - The Bullpen

"Man, paperwork sucks at Christmas."

"Chief, paperwork sucks all the time."

"Yeah, maybe it just seems to suck worse at Christmas."

"You're just impatient 'cause we decided to open our gifts tonight instead of waiting for tomorrow. I'm still not entirely sure about that."

"We need it, Jim. Tomorrow we're gonna try to deal with my Mom and your Dad both at the same time. We're gonna need all the good vibes stored up that we can get." There was silence, save for the scratching of pens. Jim got up, stretched with elaborate casualness, and strolled toward the door. Blair didn't bother to look up. "Get away from that package, Ellison."

"I wasn't touching it, I was just looking at it."

"With your senses, I don't trust you not to see through the paper. Get away from it. And stop grumbling. I may not be a Sentinel, but I can still hear it."

"Scrooge."

"Bah, humbug."

"I have to run down to records. I promised the crew I'd stop by their party."

"Yeah. But if I hear about you letting McDonald corner you under the mistletoe, I'm gonna kick some butt."

"For heaven's sake, Blair. He's old enough to be my father."

"I could say something here about age differences, if I really wanted to."

"Not if you want anything besides coal and switches for Christmas."

"Keep the coal, bring on the switches."

"Kinky bastard."

"More than just my hair, man."

As Jim was leaving, Rafe was entering, followed by a scruffy looking individual. Since he wasn't wearing cuffs, he might as well have had 'SNITCH' tattooed across his forehead. The man was talking with a rapidity that suggested desperation. "Jus' another twenty, huh? I gave ya Callazo, din' I? An' Tybalt."

"To quote Janet Jackson, what have you done for me lately? No, Nichols. The last two you gave me didn't pan out, and I came real close to embarrassing myself very badly. You have nothing, you get nothing." Rafe wasn't a hard-hearted man, but it was possible for him to be pissed off. Endangering his standing in the precinct would do it every time.

"C'mon, man! It's Chris'mas."

"Which means that I'm personally short of liquid assets, and you're not going on the department's dime. If you give me another good bust, I might be able to talk Banks into funding you again, but it'll have to wait till after the holidays."

"But I can't wait that long."

"Deal with it." Rafe looked over at Blair. "Hey, Sandburg. How did that present you were trying to get for Ellison work out?" Nichols had been dismissed. He hovered hopefully near the door for another minute or two, though, being ignored by the other two men.

Blair grinned, making a circle with his thumb and forefinger. "Perfecto. I got the Jags jersey with Orvelle's old number on it, and all the guys signed it. Adams, Ivers, Kenderson, even Sloman. He got over that resentment thing he had going on Jim after we wiped out Kincaid."

"And you managed to do that and still stay under the twenty dollar limit you set?"

"Easily. They gave me a special price on the jersey, and the autographs were free. I had almost six bucks left over." He chuckled. "Don't tell Ellison that, though."

He went back to his paperwork, finishing quickly. He was just putting the last of it into a neat stack when Jim returned. "Am I gonna have to check you for lip balm?"

"He didn't try. Mrs. Peter's, though..."

"The one who looks like Mrs. Slocum on 'Are You Being Served'?"

"Yeah. I never will figure out how she manages to get her hair that shade of purple. Anyway, she tried to check my tonsils, but that was it. Are you ready to go?"

"Yup. Just gotta grab the coat." Blair slipped into his coat, and reached up for Jim's present. Frowning, he turned to his lover and said sternly, "Jim, where's the present?"

Jim looked at the shelf. "I don't know. You didn't take it out to the truck?"

"No. It was right there." Knowing it was futile, Blair examined the floor around the shelf, and the chairs. "Shit. It couldn't just vanish into thin air."

Rafe came over, sipping a cup of coffee. "What's up?"

"Jim's present is AWOL."

Rafe winced. "Son of a bitch. Nichols."

"Oh, MAN!"

Blair started to swear colorfully in several languages. Having spent a little time overseas, Jim could understand enough to be impressed. "Who's Nichols?"

"My snitch. Or my would-be snitch. He's been dry lately, and he was in here trying to stick me for some cash. He was here, the box was here. He left, the box is gone. No one else in or out. Gosh, I'm so glad I'm a detective. Look, Sandburg, calm down. You're too young for a coronary. I have his address, and he's probably gone there. He won't be able to pawn the jersey today, anyway, and you can probably..."

"Jersey?"

Blair glared at Rafe. "Oops. Well, at least I didn't say anything about the auto..."

"STOP!"

Too late. "Autographs? Blair, you got me a jersey with autographs on it? Which team?"

Blair sighed, looking daggers at a sheepish Rafe. "The Jags, who else?"

"Let me finish what I was saying, Sandburg. I have his address. If you go there right now, you can probably get the thing back."

"It's worth a try, I guess. C'mon, Big Guy. Let's boogie."

As they started out the door, Jim was saying, "So, team colors, right? What number was it? Who signed it? Do you think I can get it framed?"

"I'm gonna do something realnasty to Rafe after the holidays."

A Half Hour Later, Nichol's Apartment

"Oh, wow. Rat hole." Jim's voice was grim. He and Blair were making their way up a narrow set of stairs. The walls were greasy with the grime of several decades. The grime was not as noticeable as it might have been, due to the graffiti.

"You said it, man. This is worse than any of the dumps I stayed in before. I'm damn sure appreciating the loft right now." Blair heard a scuttling in a pile of trash at the landings, and edged closer to Jim.

"Mouse, not rat," Jim assured him.

"I'm, like, so comforted."

They located the right apartment. There were tinny Christmas carols coming from the other side of the door. Jim knocked briskly. He cocked his head, then said, "Shit. He's got a kid in there. This might not be pretty."

"I just want your present back. We don't have to run him in if he gives it up, do we?"

"I suppose not. Technically, it is still yours, till you give it to me, so you can make the decision."

A voice called. "Who is it?"

"From the precinct, Nichols. Open up."

"Just a second."

After a minute, the door opened on a chain, and the scruffy man who'd been in the bullpen peered out. He sighed, and closed the door, then opened it again, all the way. "Yeah?"

"You took something that wasn't yours." Blair said sternly. The man fidgeted, opening his mouth, and Blair snapped, "Look, don't try to deny it. You're the only one it could have been. I want it back." As he spoke, he was taking in the details of the room.

It was horribly shabby, but almost painfully clean. Attempts had been made to scrub the wall, leaving the ancient paint blotched. In one corner was a scraggly pine that made Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree look like the one you see in Lincoln Center. It was bravely decorated with popcorn strands and clumsily made paper chains. There were no presents under it. Blair started to feel pangs of dismay. Jim had said that there was a child here. His Christmas looked a little bleak.

Nichols was speaking. "Look, I'm sorry about that. I don' steal, you c'n ask Rafe. But when I heard you talkin' 'bout that present..." He swallowed hard. "Lemme keep it, okay? I... I'll fin' some way to pay ya back after Chris'mas, I swear. I been lookin' for real work, an' I might get on at the sanitation department..."

"Daddy?"

The child that wandered out of the bedroom couldn't have been more than six. He was barefoot, and looked freshly scrubbed, and he was wearing the jersey. The shoulder straps had been tied in a knot behind his neck to keep it from falling off him, and it floated around his ankles.

"Danny, honey, go back in the bedroom, huh?" the man pleaded.

"No, it's all right." Jim squatted down and crooked a finger at the boy. "C'mere, and let me see your nightshirt."

The boy came to him, gazing at him solemnly. "You're big. Do you play football?"

Jim grinned. "Nope. I'm a policeman."

"Oh. One of Daddy's frien's."

Jim slanted a look up at Nichol's, who'd gone pale. The man's expression was pleading. "That's right, one of your Dad's friends. That's a nice jersey you have."

The boy beamed proudly and held the front out to give Jim a better look. He pointed. "That's from Mr. Wallace, an' Mr. Sloman, an' Mr. Adams... an'... an' all of 'em." The look he turned on his father was one of pure adoration. "My Daddy got it for me. My Daddy loves me a lot."

"I bet he does, little guy. Now, why don't you go on back in the bedroom, like your Daddy said?"

"Okay. Merry Chris'mas."

The two policemen echoed the sentiment, watching him go. Jim looked at Blair. "Sandburg, it isn't that I don't want it..."

"Say no more. It stays here. You wouldn't be you if you took it back." He looked at Nichols. "Man, next time tell a person why you need bread, okay? We could have done something. You need anything else?"

The man straightened up. "No, we're all right. I have food, an' there's the Chris'mas dinner at the mission tomorrow, an' they'll have a couple of presents for him from 'Santa Claus'. I... I just wanted to give him somethin' myself so bad..."

Jim patted his shoulder. "I hope he grows into it, and I see him on the boards with the Jags someday." He got a card out of his wallet and handed it to Nichols. "If you need a reference, have 'em call me."

"Thank you."

They trudged back down the stairs in silence. In the cab of the truck, Jim sighed. "Well, that was a nice Christmas present I almost had."

"Don't despair. I can replace that. It'll take a little work, and calling in a favor or two, but I can do it. And for tonight, there's still a little time for me to get you a 'tide you over' gift."

Jim glanced at Blair as he started the engine. "Are you kidding? Everything is closed by now. Besides, you can't go over your own limit."

"Oh, man! I know you aren't going to hold me to that."

"I'm not?"

"Jim! That is so unfair!"

"I dealt with it, you deal with it."

Blair grumbled as they drove, but a slow, sly smile formed on his face. "Drop me off at the corner store."

"Sandburg, you're going to buy my Christmas present at a convenience store?"

"Just the wrappings, Big Guy. I already have the present. Drop me off, then go home and dial your senses way down. I won't be long."

Completely puzzled, Jim watched Blair hurry in, waiting in hopes of seeing what section of the store he'd go to. Blair stood inside the door and made shooing motions at him, so he left.

A Little Later - The Loft

The door slammed. "Blair?"

"I told you to turn 'em down, man." Blair looked sternly at Jim as he came down the stairs.

"I did. Do you have any idea how noisy you are when you shut a door?"

"Go back upstairs. I need to wrap your present."

Jim eyed the small paper sack he was carrying. "In a minute. I want you to open your gift first."

Blair thought for a split second, then said, "Okay," setting aside the bag. Jim handed him a package about the size of a shoe box, wrapped neatly in pristine white paper and tied with a neat silver ribbon. "Oh, man, I love it. You're even anal retentive about wrapping presents. It's beautiful. However, I am not anal retentive about opening presents, so..." Ribbons and paper scraps flew. Blair gasped. "Jim! How did you get this? I've looked all over Cascade... Hell, I looked all over three counties, and no one carries this tea anymore."

"I ordered it from their branch in San Francisco. Merry Christmas, Chief."

"Oh, wow!" He hugged Jim ecstatically. "That was so thoughtful. I've been missing this stuff. I thought I'd never get it again. Thank you."

"You're welcome. And your present to me was pretty special, too. You know how much I love the Jags. You don't really have to replace it." His tone wasn't at all convincing.

Blair pulled back, giving him a secretive smile. "That won't be much of a problem. But I think your stop-gap gift is going to make you pretty happy."

"What is it?"

Blair snorted. "Like I'd tell." He walked toward the bathroom, carrying a small paper sack. "I'm gonna wrap it, so get your ass upstairs, dial down your hearing, and don't look down here, Ellison. I mean it."

"I was wrong. You aren't Scrooge, you're the Grinch." He heard a very credibly Boris Karloff type laugh float up from the bathroom, and went upstairs to sit on the bed, smiling. What the hell was Sandburg up to now? He was tempted to extend his hearing, but he'd promised.

After a while, Blair called. "Okay. Come downstairs, sit on the couch, and close your eyes. And no peeking!" Jim went down into the living room and settled on the sofa, closing his eyes. "Are your eyes closed?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

"Sandburg..."

"Just checking." He heard the door open. "Turn up your hearing." Jim dialed it up to just a little above normal, and heard the soft pad of Blair's bare feet on the rug. "Okay, now the smell."

Jim eased the sense of smell up. Something smelled good. He sifted through the various aromas. Sugar, lots of sugar. Cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, mint, cardamon... He sat up straight abruptly, his cock giving a twitch of interest. And sex. Whoa, the pheromones are coming off him in waves!

"Ah, I see you have a hint. Open your eyes." Jim opened his eyes and looked.

Blair was standing right in front of him, hands demurely behind his back. That was the only thing demure about him. He was totally naked, except for a red ribbon tied in a bow around his neck, a couple of dozen Christmas cookies of assorted shapes plastered on his body, and a... erm... strategically hung candy cane.

Jim's jaw dropped. His mouth started to fill with saliva (and not because of the cookies) and he had to swallow to keep from drooling down his chin. Blair's grin got wider. He tapped the candy cane with one finger so that it swung lazily back and forth. "Well?"

Jim finally managed coherent speech. "Before we go any further, how the hell did you get the cookies to stay on?"

Blair pulled his hands out from behind his back. He was holding an empty jar of marshmallow fluff and a sticky knife. Dropping the knife into the jar with a clatter, he set them aside. "Merry Christmas, Big Guy. Ready to open your present?" His eyebrows wiggled wickedly.

Jim got up and reached for him. "I should warn you, Sandburg. Unlike certain Guides I know, I take a very long time unwrapping my presents."

The end.

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Thanks to Lupe for the fabulous drawing, and CJ for the soon to be infamous Candy Cane Blair, and Patt for the beautiful cover. Thanks to Mary for beta. Thanks to Patt and Lisa and Ann and all the others for the warm support and encouragement. Oh, and the swelled head. :)