A SLASH version of this story can be found on my author page at AFF.Net
"Hey, Jim, I'm gonna head to the bookstore, where should I meet you?" Blair asked, juggling his packages. It was two weeks 'til Christmas, and what with Cascade's steady trickle of crime and Blair's classes – three he was teaching, two he was taking – neither Sentinel nor Guide had had time to shop for Christmas presents until now. They'd taken a Saturday afternoon to head to the mall and get all their shopping done.
"I need to go to 'Bath & Bodyworks'." Jim grimaced at Blair's astonished look. "They're having a 'Buy One, Get One Free' sale on stuff, and I need presents for Megan, Sally and Rhonda," he explained. Blair nodded. "It shouldn't take me long, and I know you'd spend all day in the bookstore if I let you, so I'll just meet you there, okay, Chief?"
Blair grinned. "Sure, Jim, see you there," he said, heading off towards 'Brentano's Books'.
Jim shook his head; he couldn't believe Blair still had energy after shopping for three hours.
Blair pulled up short in front of 'Toys R Us.' There was a massive train display; they must have used over a dozen sets to create the railroad masterpiece.
Blair walked forward, captivated by the display.
He remembered when he was eight and he and Naomi were living with her then boyfriend Jake Masters, an out-of-work guitar player. He'd wanted a toy train for Christmas. One of the only times he'd ever asked for a specific present, and the only time he'd ever asked for a toy. He was normally happy with books, which was good, since most of the presents he received were practical: clothes, mittens, a few books. Naomi didn't have much disposable income, so she got him useful gifts. He'd never gone in for toys much. He didn't like action figures or toy guns, which was all they had when he was growing up, except for sports equipment. Someone at school always had a basketball or soccer ball they were willing to let the whole group use, and if it was baseball, he could always borrow a glove or bat from the school.
But Jake lived in Venice, and for Thanksgiving week, they'd gone to the California State Railroad Museum. It was one of the greatest things he'd ever seen, and ever since then he'd wanted a train of his very own.
The Christmas he was eight was when he discovered that wishes didn't always come true.
When he'd asked Naomi for a train set for Christmas, she'd given him a sad look and told him money was tight, surely he could understand? Of course, he said he did. He'd learned that not asking for anything, not expecting anything, was the best hope he had of not getting hurt. He was eight years old and had lived in more than two-dozen different places, attended over nine different schools. The more he liked a place, it seemed, the sooner Naomi would decide to leave, so he'd learned never to be effusive about how he felt about where they were living.
Blair stood, watching the trains, mesmerized, the bookstore forgotten.
Jim found the perfect presents for the women on his list, and even got something extra for Sandburg with his second free gift. He went through the thankfully short checkout and went to find his partner. He headed for the bookstore, but the sight of his roommate frozen in front of the toy store stopped him in his tracks. Blair was standing, watching the electric train display with wide eyes.
Jim blinked and smiled bittersweetly in remembrance. When he was very young, his father had set up an electric train set underneath their Christmas tree every year. It was his favorite part of the holiday. He still remembered the excitement he'd felt, 'cause he knew the arrival of the train meant Santa would be coming soon. His smile faded. Of course, that was before his mother left. Before his father said they were too old to have a train set. Before he stopped believing in St. Nick when he didn't get his wish – that his mother would come back.
Jim shook off his sad reminiscences and walked up to his partner, standing by his side. "Did you ever have a train?" Jim asked his partner quietly.
Blair shook his head sadly. "No. I asked for one once, but we didn't have enough money." He turned away reluctantly. "I still haven't been to the bookstore. Would you mind stopping by there for a moment?"
"Sure," Jim said, wondering why his partner seemed so down. Then it hit him – Naomi never had a steady job, and Blair's Christmas gifts most likely consisted of underwear and socks, useful stuff. Toys were probably at the bottom of the list. Now that he thought about it, when Sandburg's warehouse apartment got blown up, most of his stuff was still intact – and it had all been able to fit into his Volvo, with a few boxes in the back of Jim's truck.
He teased Blair about his room being a mess, but the truth was, the room was tiny – and if Blair had even half as much stuff as Jim did, there wouldn't be room in his bedroom for Blair.
Jim resolved then and there to make this the best Christmas for his Guide he possibly could…and he knew just where to start.
"I think this is the last one," Blair said, no sign of disappointment in his voice. Most people got a little depressed when they finished unwrapping all of their presents; Blair got excited by how many people had thought of him. But what was really surprising was that Blair hadn't opened a gift from Jim yet, and didn't seem in the least upset that he hadn't gotten one from his friend, even though he'd given Jim several: a thick blue fleece ski hat, a new wallet (Jim's old one was falling apart) made of real leather, and some specially-made muscle liniment that was scent free. Jim always had to dial down smell to almost zero when he needed to use the store brand muscle rub.
"Not quite, Chief, you still haven't opened mine," Jim chided his friend. He got up from the couch and went over to the linen closet, pulling open the door to retrieve a number of boxes in all shapes and sizes from the top shelf. He juggled them around until he could carry them all over to the sofa, grinning at Blair's wide-eyed expression.
"Here you go, buddy," Jim said tenderly, placing the pile of presents in his Guide's lap. There were very few people that he enjoyed giving presents to. Most people told you they liked a gift even if they hated it, so he was never sure if he'd gotten someone a good gift. After his senses came online, it was easy for him to tell when someone was lying; giving presents became more a chore than anything else since most people didn't really like what he got them. But Blair, Blair was the best gift recipient Jim had ever known. He was extremely easy to buy for. On Blair's first birthday at the loft, Jim hadn't known him very well and had gotten him a gift certificate to the local 'Barnes & Noble'. Blair had launched himself into his arms and hugged the stuffing out of him. It seemed most people got him trinkets; necklaces, fetishes, obscure Anthropology artifacts, and while those were great, he was an underpaid teaching assistant, and he never had the money for books.
Jim didn't know anyone who reacted with such delight when they received a gift. He sat back down on the couch and prepared to watch Blair's eyes light up as he tore into the brightly-wrapped packages.
Blair stared in awe at the gifts; he couldn't believe Jim had gotten him so many. He did a quick count and found there were fourteen gifts. He turned to his friend. "Not that I'm not grateful, and believe me, I am, but why are there so many?"
Jim grinned widely. "Well, I got you one present for each day of Hanukah, with three extras for the last day of it, since I know you're supposed to get more then, and three for Christmas." He blushed. "I guess I went overboard, especially since I'm not sure if you celebrate Hanukah; you didn't bring it up when I asked you to come with me to buy a Christmas tree, and I wasn't sure…"
Blair smiled at his rambling friend. "I do celebrate Hanukah, and other Jewish holidays. I'm just not into all the rituals: you're supposed to light the menorah at sunset, and say several special prayers, and eat special foods that take forever to fix… I see no reason why I should say all the prayers or fix all the foods, since God knows why I'm doing it. I put the menorah out on the balcony so the smoke from the candles wouldn't irritate your senses," he said, nodding towards the glass doors.
He went on, "When I was growing up, we never had the money to get gifts for all eight days of Hanukah, so we mostly celebrated Christmas as the present-giving day, and just lit the menorah on the other nights." He grew quiet. "I've never gotten a Hanukah present before," he said softly, caressing one blue-wrapped box with silver menorahs gracing the surface.
Jim's heart ached for his friend. While his Christmases after his mother left weren't very happy, he'd always gotten lots of gifts; the holiday season was one time when his father stopped playing favorites, so he and Stephen each received the same number of gifts, there was just no fanfare or affection. Conversely, Blair probably received very few presents, but his holidays were most likely filled with love and laughter. He wondered who was better off.
Jim shook himself from his thoughts. "Well, now you've got one, or rather, ten. Open them before I burst," he said teasingly, wanting to lift his friend's spirits.
Blair flashed a quick grin at him and tore into the present he'd been stroking a moment before. Inside was a soft, cotton-blend sweater in variegating shades of blue. It looked very warm, and he loved the pattern. "Oh, Jim, this is really nice." He inspected the weave of the cloth. "And very good quality." He smiled at his friend, folding the sweater back up and laying it next to Jim on the couch.
He reached into the gold and beige bag, which he recognized as being from the bath store Jim had gone into yesterday, and pulled out a large bottle of Melon & Kiwi shaving lotion. He flipped up the cap and took a deep sniff. "Mmm, this smells nice." He grinned his thanks at the Sentinel. He opened a small, palm-sized box next, which held a silver clip-on watch in the shape of a wolf's head.
"I thought, since you're always forgetting to wear your watch, that you could attach this to the zipper on your backpack so that you always know what time it is," Jim told him.
"I love it, Jim, thanks." Blair leaned over and gave his friend a quick squeeze.
"Well, you're not done yet, don't hug me until you're through, or we'll be here all night," Jim laughed.
Blair pulled back and nodded. "Okay, Big Guy." He opened an almost round parcel next; Jim had obviously tried very hard to get it to look good. He pulled off the gold bow and removed the tape holding it together to reveal a round blue candle. It had a checked pattern over it, and when he checked the label on the bottom, it said it was cranberry-scented.
The next gift was in a long green box, tied with a silvery-purple ribbon. Blair pulled off the cloth band and set it in top of his sweater. At Jim's look, he said, "It'll make a great bookmark." Jim nodded.
Blair gasped as he opened the box. Inside was a paper booklet, obviously made by Jim, with coupons for things like 'One Hour of Gripe-Free Testing', 'One Day Where I Do My Own Paperwork', and 'Jim Cooks On Blair's Night'. There were also several coupons for full-body massages – "For when you're feeling rundown," Jim explained – and for Jim cleaning out the bathroom drains. He'd made Blair do it after the first time, since his hair was what clogged it up in the first place.
Blair counted those vouchers up, and there were six, enough to last for a year. There was more than one of everything so far, and the booklet had at least a hundred coupons in it. The smile Blair flashed at Jim almost blinded him, and Ellison thought he saw a tear in the corner of his friend's eyes.
"This is great, Jim," Blair said, trying not to let his tears fall. "I can't believe you're willing to do all this."
Jim smirked at his friend, wanting to lessen the tension. "Well, since I gave you a booklet this year, I expect to get a similar one next year. I was thinking of ones for 'Blair Cleans Up Bathroom Every Morning For A Week', 'Blair Holds Still For More Than One Hour At Precinct', 'Blair Doesn't Talk About Obscure Tribal Rituals On Stakeout', y'know, stuff like that."
Blair barked a laugh. "In your dreams, man." He reminded himself to think of stuff to put in his booklet and grabbed the next gift, a white shoebox-sized package. In it was a pair of hiking boots very similar to the ones he'd handed over to Sneaks that first time he'd gone with Jim to meet the snitch.
"I know you never got reimbursed for the ones you gave Sneaks. This one goes with those," Jim told him, handing over another white-wrapped box. Blair opened the second package to find half a dozen pairs of argyle socks in varying color combinations.
"These are great, man, really soft," Blair said. "And I don't have most of these colors." He set the shoebox next to his sweater and laid the socks on top of it, before picking up the next gift. The large, yet light box yielded a pile of folded blue fleece. "What is it?" he asked Jim.
"It's a sleep sack," Jim told him, a pleased expression on his face.
"A sleep sack?" Blair asked hesitantly.
Jim nodded. "Yeah, it's a one-piece outfit which goes from neck to ankles. You wear it around the house like a bathrobe, only without the drafts. It's really warm."
Blair dug through the folds of cloth, finding the wrist and ankle cuffs, plus the zipper that ran down the front of the sack. "Wow, this is great. I'm gonna wear it tonight, I've been freezin'," Blair said, placing the fleece garment back in the box, then setting the box on the floor.
A thin green and tan envelope held another book gift certificate, and Blair smiled at his friend's continued thoughtfulness. Once Jim had found out that Blair never had enough money for books, he'd given him a gift certificate each Christmas and birthday, along with his other, less practical gifts.
The next was a large, flat box, again rather light. Inside was a leather-bottomed backpack. "Uh, Jim, I already have a backpack," Blair said regretfully. The pack was very well-made, and it even had pouches on the side for drinks, plus a pocket inside the small front compartment for his cell phone.
Jim snorted. "It's falling apart. I saw you in your room last week with a needle and thread stitching the strap back on. And that wasn't the first time it happened. This one will last you for a good long while," he assured his Guide.
Blair's face reddened slightly at having been found out. "Thanks, Jim," he said warmly. He placed the backpack on the couch next to his shoes and picked up another bag; almost weightless, this one held some sheer silk garments.
Blair was stunned. "Uh, Jim did you get me lingerie?" he asked half-unbelievingly, half-teasing.
"No," Jim sputtered. He snatched up one of the garments and held it up for Blair to see. "That's silk thermal underwear; long-sleeved shirts and leggings. You wear them underneath your clothes to add warmth."
Blair nodded and grinned. "Ah, I see." He placed the bag on top of the shoebox, and picked up another box. This one held CD's. "Greatest Hits of the 60's?" Blair read off the first jewel case. He picked up the next two four-packs. "Greatest Hits of the 70's. Greatest Hits of the 80's. Wow, this is great!" He read the backs of the CD cases. "And they've got a lot of my favorite songs." Then he glanced up at Jim, concerned. "But these must've cost a bundle, Big Guy," he said worriedly, looking his friend in the eye.
Jim sighed. "You shouldn't worry about how much a gift costs, Chief, just accept it. But to make you feel better, I got a deal on them. The music store had a going out of business sale and I got them 60 percent off."
Blair nodded; he knew Jim had plenty of money, having made wise investments with his back pay from the Army, but he didn't like the idea that Jim was spending most of it on him. He picked up another box, opening it to find a framed photo of he and Jim at the Detective of the Year awards ceremony. They were both in tuxes, and had their arms around each other's shoulders, smiling at the camera.
"Aw, Jim, this is nice. It's a great picture," he said, cradling the wood frame carefully. He laid it on top of his sweater and picked up the last gift. It was another envelope, a manila one. Inside was an official-looking document. He picked it up and read the first part of it.
"Jim?" he said, confusion in his voice. "Isn't this the deed to the loft?"
Jim nodded, clenching his hands together in his lap. "Read the end of it, Chief."
Blair skimmed down to the bottom of the paper and read "Owners – Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Jim, you're giving me co-ownership of the loft?! But I don't even pay rent." He stared at his friend in disbelief.
Jim sighed. "Yeah, but you do so much for me, Blair. I wanted to do something for you. I wanted to give you a home. Please accept this, Blair, I want you to." He sat there, tense, waiting for Blair's verdict.
Blair turned a dazzling smile on the older man, before getting up and throwing his arms around Jim's neck. "Of course I will, Jim. This is the best gift I've ever gotten." He hugged his friend tightly before sitting next to him on the couch. "I love my presents, Jim, they're the greatest."
Jim chuckled. "Well, you're not done yet, Chief, you've still got one more," he said, pointing to the very large box still sitting next to the chair.
"Oh, yeah!" Blair said excitedly. He knelt down on the floor next to the huge package, ripping into the paper with glee. When he saw the pictures on the box, he stilled.
"It's a…train set," he said wonderingly, stroking the plastic-formed protrusions that were shaped around the different cars. "It's got a caboose, smoke and lights, track and everything. But why?" He turned to his friend.
Jim smiled softly at his Guide. "Because you asked for one when you were younger. It's a little late, but I thought we could both enjoy it. We had one at Christmas when I was younger, but after my mom left, Dad stopped putting it up." His face fell slightly. "He thought we were too old for 'baby toys', but I missed it. So while I'm giving you a piece of your childhood you never had, I'm giving myself back a piece of my childhood that I'd lost." He knelt on the floor next to Blair and said gruffly, "Now, you wanna help me set it up?"
Slowly a smile spread across Blair's face and he nodded. "Yeah."
Half an hour later, the train was set up on a figure-eight track that wound around the coffee table, back over itself, and around the tree base, only to start all over again.
"This is so great," Blair enthused.
"Yeah, it is," Jim agreed. He pressed the button on the control panel to sound the horn. "Choo-Choo," he laughed softly as he watched the train chug around the tracks.
Blair chuckled at his friend. Jim seemed to be enjoying the train just as much as he must have when he was younger. His partner was acting like a big kid. He knew the Sentinel must have heard in his voice how much he wanted that train when he was younger and decided to make up for it now.
His Christmases when he was younger might have been meager, and while he might have regretted not being able to have everything on his wish list, he knew his mother loved him. He told himself that was the most important part, but sometimes he wondered if his life would have been better if Naomi had ever stayed somewhere for more than six months. She'd have been able to get a better job, make more money, and he would have known Christmases full of toys instead of clothes. He'd never really gotten to be a child, always having to worry about money or where they were staying for the night. He'd never sent a letter to Santa, since he would never get anything on his list, because Naomi couldn't have afforded it. Now Jim was giving him a chance to relive a small part of his childhood over…and he was going to enjoy it to the max.
Blair knelt next to his friend and said, "Hey, let me try that."
Jim chuckled at his friend's enthusiasm and relinquished the controls.
He sat back and just watched Blair following the train around the track with avid eyes. Blair occasionally added a horn blast or some smoke or lights. He was totally into his new toy.
Yup, he'd done good.
"Hey, Jim?" Blair piped up. "Now that I co-own the loft, does that mean I can bring dates home?"