Title: Belinda-the-Rat... meet Patrick Jane!

Author: Kourion

Summary: It's the annual CBI Holiday party, and the SCU is having their own little bash. So what happens when gate crashers Julian Cho, Madeline Hightower and Belinda-the-rat (wait, Belinda the who?) drop by unannounced? Is more really merrier?

A/N: this is a one shot (hey, I wanted to write something Christmas-y! Yule-y Take-your-pick-of-holiday-y!) Reviews, of course = still very much loved!

In this ficlet, Jane and Lisbon have more or less just started the process of dating. If you can imagine that (!). Personally, I don't think all that much would change on a day-to-day basis if they ever get to that stage on the show (cross your fingers, people!). Of course, I can see Jane using the new status as a means to further tease Lisbon. Suuure. Can definitely see that :) Anyway, this one is going to be a little bit more light hearted (ok, a LOT more light hearted) than most of my other stories. But since I play around in the angst!schoolyard so much, hopefully something a little more relaxed/ humorous scenes...doesn't fall flat. Like old, old, old forgotten holiday ginger-ale.

Oh - Belinda the Rat is TOTALLY fashioned on my little rat. (I actually was holding my girl while I wrote out the scene where Julian is showing Belinda to Jane!) Both in terms of looks and personality. And like Lisbon, I used to be absolutely rat-phobic (worse than Lisbon, actually!). The story of how I got over such a long standing fear would take awhile to explain, so I'm just going to say this: rats are super smart, and very gentle. It's sad that so many animals have gotten such a bad rap. And of course, I only have real familiarity with domesticated rats (wild rats, I imagine, would be far different in terms of aggression). But domesticated fancy rats (or at least the ones I've had, anyway) have all been sort of wussy-affectionate-cute. Real little sucky babies, truly. ;)

A/N part deux: This story can be squashed sometime after Redress, obviously. In this fic, I've made the year 2012. Given that there was a LOT of stuff that happened in those earlier fics, and so far - Mr. Bruno Heller - hasn't moved forward in the Jisbon department as much as many of us would have liked. So yeah.

A/N part trois: dang it! FF (dot) net is being a royal pain in the arse and keeps corrupting my formatting. :( Sorry about that, guys!

Dec 18th, 2012

I'm not going to say anything.


Nothing at all.

Because this is just. too. great.




Lisbon, of course, is still completely consumed by her task of writing reports.

The woman needs to learn to relax and let go! Less than ten days to Christmas, and she's still furiously scrawling out notes.

And now...this...

I smirk, waiting for her to look up...

...this is hilarious!

In her defense, she has dj earphones covering her petite head - and those effectively block out all sounds of Santa Claus is Coming to Town and the jazzy Peanuts Christmas soundtrack that Van Pelt brought for the party.

Yet, despite all of that...you'd still think that she'd somehow feel the presence of such a small, foreign character just hovering by her desk...

...wouldn't you?

Actually, the little kid standing mutely in front of Lisbon's desk is...

...maybe...8 years old?

Short with light olive skin and black hair. Familiar features to one Agent Kimball Cho. The tyke is swinging some sort of carrier for small animals around. As he gently swings the carrier, I hear an angry SQUEAK!

Some little animal inside that thing is obviously outraged with such whimsical treatment...

I'd tell the kid to be gentle; after all, anything that can fit into a carrier that small has got to be pretty fragile... But if I do THAT, then I'll blow my cover. And I'm pretending to be sleeping. So I continue to watch him, and Lisbon, from my couch, my eyes barely cracked, my body totally still.

Lisbon, still absorbed with the last boring wrap-up procedures of our recent case is oh-ho-ho-ho SO not getting into the Christmas spirit. Frankly, I don't even think she'll be going home to change. In fact, I'm rather certain she WON'T because when I asked her about it at lunch, she had looked herself up and down and asked rather flippantly, "what's wrong with what I'm wearing?"

The answer is...absolutely nothing, of course.

She looks strikingly beautiful, as always...

Actually, now that I study her from my recently dubbed "sleeping station", I CAN see the slightest attempts at Christmas cheer: the curl of her hair, relaxed, but somehow more festive in being so natural. Not to mention the tiny evergreen earrings, the burgundy red sweater and hunter green top underneath that...

Not that anyone else really knows about the green undershirt...but still: props to Lisbon for making an effort!

No, she really doesn't need to change at all.

She looks perfect just the way she is...

Lisbon IS already decked out in Christmas colours. And me? Well, I'm still wearing my standard uniform, so to speak: blue dress shirt, grey pinstripe vest, slacks - those are also grey, as typical. But I'm also wearing a kitschy tie today (it has reindeer on it! bonus points for reindeer, right? and one of the reindeer has a blinky nose! it's such an ugly tie that I can't believe I'm wearing it, actually...) and I have a Santa hat for later, too. Plus, just so Lisbon won't feel left out (we wouldn't want that!)...I got her an elf hat, which I really do believe is most appropriate. Heck, my Liss looks downright elfin EVERY day of the year... even without the hat, or the festive colours.

A cough now.

Still, Lisbon doesn't look up.

"Hi...Teresa?," and FINALLY the little kid speaks, calling the workaholic in front of him by her first name at that!

I really should applaud his patience.

God knows I don't have that sort of patience. And as a child? Forget about it! I would have bopped Lisbon on the head with a scrunched up paper ball LONG before now. That, or, possibly...jumped up and down, and hollered in her ear, "hey lady? ya deaf?" just like I did with my Aunty Merley when I was about 6.

(The unfortunate situation there, of course, was that Aunty Merley WAS deaf! Oh well. I was a kid. How was I supposed to know?)

"Teresa?," tries the voice a second time, louder and less tentative this time around.

I smirk at the kid's familiarity and boldness, and my smirk only grows larger when Lisbon's head jerks up, caught off guard.

"Umm...hello... What...can I do for you, honey?," she looks thrown off course.

The little face goes from blank to... blank with a note of amusement.

"You don't remember me, huh?," the voice still sounds gruff, and to the point, but certainly not hurt.

Lisbon pushes remnant files to one side of her desk. She took to finishing up out here, at my insistence, though I bet she's wishing she had holed herself up in her office now. Her eyes zoom over to where I'm resting, so I immediately snap my eyes shut, play dead. (I don't want her grilling me later as to why I let some elementary school aged child hang out in the office, unassisted, for heaven knows how long...)

"Ummm," comes her stalling-voice. I can almost see the furrow between her eyes.

No recollection.

Like I said, this is too great.

"Julian Cho?," the kid attempts to clarify, "You came to my Uncle Kim's holiday party when I was little? 'Member?"

I want to call out something along the lines of...'oh, you're STILL little, buster! That doesn't help much!'...but I think, right now, I'd rather Lisbon frantically fish for a memory of some little kid she was introduced to years back. The amusement factor in option #2 is, obviously, going to reap much more of a reward.

"Jules? Sometimes Uncle Kim calls me Jules?," poor kid tries again, still lightly swinging the carrier around as if he's swinging a backpack full of books, and not a carrier with a hapless creature.

"You brought us gingermen cookies wearing stripes? The prisoner gingermen people?"

I grin at the ceiling. Of course she did; I can see it now. PRISONER gingermen cookies.

That you bite the heads off of...

A little morbid, actually. And...totally Lisbon, all black humor wrapped up in so-called festive levity.

"It was late. I was in my pajamas? You gave me a remote controlled Wall.e toy...you know, that little yellow robot?"

I smirk, realizing that this kid has an iron trap memory.

But finally...some sort of dawning recollection.

"Oh...Oh, yes! Yes! Oh I'm so sorry Julian! Yes, I remember you. You're a lot taller now...was that only last year?," Lisbon sputters, sounding totally embarrassed. Not to mention still totally lost.

A lot taller than WHAT?, I want to ask, given that the kid barely bypasses the 4 feet mark as it is, I'm sure. I remain quiet however, interested in seeing how long I can...drag this out.

Julian pulls out a chair, sits down, skinny legs and knobby knees dangling six inches off the floor.

"No...it was...awhile ago. I wasn't even in school yet. I dunno. I think I was maybe like, erhm, four?"

Finally - the light bulb flicks on.

"Oh you were REALLY little then! YES! In those yellow footed pajamas!"

Julian nods. Looks...consoling. I almost expect the little man to pat Lisbon on the arm in an 'it's fine, we all forget sometimes' gesture.

One thing is for sure: the kid's going to make one awesome psychotherapist when he grows up.

"It's okay...," he grins, his whole tone belying the fact that he's not, in fact, an adult. He securely holds the carrier in his lap after another loud SQUEAK! echoes forth. "Is Uncle Kim here? I told that guard man at the reception window that I was his nephew. He gave me THIS!"

He proudly holds up the VISITOR pass that had been hitherto clipped to his mint green shirt.

Lisbon frowns, and I know why (even I know procedure). Kids are supposed to come with adults (actually, there is no 'supposed to' here! It's adult accompaniment, or nothing!), and they are only to leave the ground level with adult presence. A *CBI* adult presence, that is.

"Yes he did," Lisbon utters softly, when - at last - an out-of-breath Cho (now THERE's a strange sight!) races into the office, his face tinged crimson.

It's an odd look for him - given that he's normally so sedate and focused.

"Is he...?," and Cho stops at the sound of that gruff voice letting out a most merry, "HAPPY YULE, Uncle Kim!"

Cho crosses his arms.

"Julian! Did someone...go and get you? Or did you just ignore Denise and come up here on your own?," and Cho's eyes dart over to me, now. "Jane...did you...?" He does not sound impressed.

Oh no! I am not letting him pin the blame on me. Neither is Teresa, apparently.

"No, Cho...Jane's been resting here for the last half hour. BELIEVE me. He hasn't budged an inch."

Cho gives me a look, and an "oh, quit faking. We know you're awake," to which I decide I might as well get up, make a formal appearance.

I orient myself, pat down my hair (which always wants to curl into curly bundles when I'm sleeping), and give the trio before me my most charming grin.

"So...prisoner cookies, huh? I could go for some prisoner cookies about now!"

Lisbon rolls her eyes, a soft, 'I should have known better' lilting across the room as the little kid sort of hobbles over, deciding that a spot next to me is better than a spot next to a crabby Uncle, I guess.

That, or else it's solidarity in our mutual fondness for gingerbread spice?

"Yeah, they were cool," he quips softly, before he points to my sofa, asking without asking...if he can sit down.

Do I really seem that possessive?

Cho groans. "Okay, well...Julian, STAY HERE...I need to let Denise at intake know that you're with us. DO NOT do that again," he says briskly. It's the closest thing to a Cho-scolding that the kid's going to get, I'm sure. Which, let's be honest - isn't much. (Which also explains the almost zero response that Cho's now getting from his nephew.)

Julian does nods - but just barely at that...an 'uh huh, uh huh' springing forth from his lips before he nestles into Elvis.

"This is a cozy couch, huh mister?"

"Isn't it though?," I agree.

I take the moment to fully scan my guest. It was hard to totally get a read on him earlier, with my eyes (for the most part) squished tightly closed.

His legs don't even depart off from the reddish material. For some reason, this amuses me greatly.

"Lisbon...look! He's even shorter than you!," I spurt, somehow finding this kid an almost eerie blend of adult and child.

Teresa ignores me, muttering something under her breath that I don't quite catch.

Oh well, no bother really. I can always drag it out of her at home...

Her head snaps back to her work then, a soft, "well NOW that we have that settled...," and a little louder, "Julian - don't you go anywhere else without permission, okay honey? This is a big building...we don't want you to get lost tonight...," she trails off, still more focused on her report writing than entertaining...or disciplining...some prone-to-wandering child that she really doesn't know very well.

Actually, Lisbon - for all her foisted-unto-her parenting duties... really DOESN'T like disciplining juveniles. It's sort of surprising how little she takes to the task given that she's been appointed the boss of at least three other adults (I say four, Lisbon says three - a smile, always, on her face).

Julian turns to me. "Well, you can go places, right mister?," and his voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper, "What do you say we blow this popsicle stand?"

His smile is very gap-toothed. In fact, he doesn't even have front teeth, so it jerkily throws me back into acknowledging that he is a child, and not an adult.

I laugh, despite myself. I also reach forward for my tea, stalling for time...

Because, let's face it...this kid doesn't seem like a hyperactive little beast. So what harm would some modest tour really do, right?

"Forget about it, Jane," Lisbon commands from her desk, reading my mind.

I frown.

I frown because Lisbon's giving me a direct order, and no - I'm not risking sleeping on the couch tonight...even for this precocious, gap-toothed kid. (As charming as Julian Cho's smile may be, and despite the fact that it's nearly Christmas... I'm going to have to say NO).


"I have a bona fide visitors badge, mister," the kid hisses to me, as if the tag clipped to his tiny striped shirt is an MI15 pass, or a CIA Top Secret clearance badge, and not something considerably more mundane. Not something handed out to Third Graders.

"Julian," Lisbon requests, not unkindly, "maybe Agent Rigsby can show you around in a couple minutes when he gets here, okay?"

Jules nods his head - seemingly in resignation, though to me he asks, "why can't YOU show me around, huh? You in trouble or something? Is that why you're in time out?"

Time out?

Do I LOOK like I'm in time out?

I give him a slight, stern frown.

"Didn't your mom or dad ever teach you not to request tour trips from potentially dangerous strangers with or without candy?"

Lisbon bites out, "Do not scare him, Jane! Jesus!"

Julian asks, "Huh? You're dangerous? You don't look dangerous!"

Oh no. Not what I was going for...

"No, I'm not. Definitely not dangerous. I just..."

"Why would you say you were dangerous then? Oh, I get it. I bet you don't have candy either, do you?"

Damn it.

"I said I could have been POTENTIALLY dangerous. As in: you don't know me from Adam, so you shouldn't be talking to me. I could have..."

"Adam? Huh? Are you dangerous, or aren't you?"

And Lisbon then: "damn it, Jane. You're making it worse. Be quiet!"

My feisty lass is putting away the papers now, and stalking over. Damage control.

This is familiar...

"Jules...this is Mr. Jane. He works with us. He's not dangerous," and her eyes flirt to mine, just begging me to disagree with her, before adding, "other than being at-times dangerously annoying..."

Is it fair to feel betrayed when Jules grins?

"Turncoat," I mutter.

Lisbon - AND Julian - ignore me.

"BUT... what he MEANT...," and there we have it: a perfect 10.0-score-Lisbon-glare, "is that you didn't know him. And it's ALWAYS a good idea to let your mom or dad, or Uncle Kimball introduce you to someone new before you go off with them. Even if someone looks...reasonably... safe..."

Julian looks back to me, suspicious, "you're not an informant, are you, Mr. Jane? Did you just get released on parole? Hey, is Uncle Kim gonna put you in handcuffs?"

Lisbon just glares at me some more. "See what you've done now?"

I clear my throat.

"Okay, well, NOW that we've had our formal introduction, me...Jane, you...shorty...do you care to introduce me to Squeaky, there?," and I point to the carrier, trying to divert attention away from myself.

It works: Lisbon's eyes dart to the carrier, as if seeing it for the first time.

Julian looks wickedly excited, remembering his pal.

"Her name's BELINDA. She's my fancy dumbo rat!"

Lisbon backs up a couple steps.

"A...rat?," she says hesitantly, as if the word itself is bitter poison. "Like a real one? An alive one? Or one of those Fur-real friends things?"

Julian blinks. Lost.

"She has real fur, sure. She's a fancy rat, most have fur. Well, some are hairless. But she's not hairless...," and to me, then, "She's SOOOO CUTE, Mr. Jane! Do you want to pet her?"

I give Lisbon my most innocent 'I'll play nice, honey' smile as Belinda makes a funny growly squeak from inside the carrier, before proceeding to scratch with her small paws.

Lisbon looks pale.

"A rat? Oh, I love rats!," I add, my smile growing larger as I take in Teresa's funny fear, "you may want to back up a bit more, darling."

Lisbon does.

Julian has the carrier half way open now, and the first thing that falls through is a long tail. Not pink, but dark.

Huh. What about that?

I point this out, and Julian nods.

"She's a dark dumbo. Dumbo means...her ears are real low on her head, like Dumbo the elephant? Her sister, Billie... is a sable colour...like honey? But Belinda is dark."

I nod, hopefully looking appreciative with this impromptu Rat-informational-session.

"I'm sure she's cute as a button!," I gush, before I wink at Lisbon who has taken on the striking cast of egg-shell white. Poor thing.

Oh well...I'm in too far to stop NOW.

"Let's make a formal acquaintance with Belinda. I mean, where are our manners, right Jules?"

Julian laughs; Lisbon is half way across the room...and only backtracking further as the boy pulls up the flap to the carrier entirely.

"Teresa?," little Julian Cho asks, seemingly not getting it: Teresa Lisbon has some sort of fear of murines, "don't you want to pet Belinda, too?"

"Yeah, Teresa, don't you?," I add, mimicking Julian's pout pretty well if I do say so myself.

I see Lisbon cringe, turn back to her desk, eyes latching onto any excuse to get away.

"Not right now, Julian. I have a lot of work to do, honey."

Julian shrugs, not really discouraged, and unzips the carrier.

"You really like 'em, Mr. Jane?"

He pulls out the teensy squeaky being. I see white paws - as if the creature is wearing socks - and then the rest of the little body follows. The small animal blinks up at me woozily, as if not appreciating the garish light of red and green indoor Christmas lights (and no doubt, the flashing makes her disorientation worse).

Belinda the rat staggers a bit, then lets out a yawn. Stretches. One lean paw in front of the other. Yawns again.

Like a baby.

"Oh isn't she ADDDORABLE!," I coo to the animal, like she IS a baby; partly because the creature is pretty cute. But mostly because I know it'll totally irk Lisbon.

Belinda is now completely awake, and staring at me in a most annoyed fashion. Her body is a dark velvet brown, and her ears - indeed, make her look like the Disney elephant... being so humorously low set on her head. To top off the whole look...her eyes are wide and large. Cartoonish, more so. But what really gets me is the little body harness, and the stockings on the harness, not to mention the pictures of smiling rats wearing Santa hats.

They make Christmas harnesses for rats? Will wonders never cease?

"Let me put her leash on, Mr. Jane," Julian says, telling me everything he's doing as he does it. "And now it clips like this on her harness, see? And then you can take her for walks! And this is her little litter box...," and the kid pulls out a small purple plastic triangle, deep and full of something that looks like thick kitty litter. "Cause Belinda is so smart...she's litter box trained, which is why Mom said I could take her to school for my show and tell!"

One thing is for sure...the kid certainly TALKS a lot more than Cho.

"You want to put her on your shoulder, Mr. Jane? She likes sitting on my shoulder!"

I look around for Lisbon. I'm sure she'll LOVE this...

Huh. What do you know? The woman has seemingly moved to a less atrociously decorated section of the CBI.

"Sure thing, buddy," I smile, when I feel the small tug on my vest.

I try not to wince as small rat hands scamper up my dress shirt. The nails are a little spiky.

"Be good, Belinda!," Julian admonishes as the rat pushes her head into my ear.


"She's sniffing you. Cause you're new. Rats have an exceptional sense of smell, Mister Jane. Much better than dogs. They have very, very bad eyesight, but exceptional smell and taste. They can taste the difference of two extra grains of salt in a pound of peanut butter. Isn't that COOL?"

That is pretty cool, actually.

Julian continues to chatter away.

"And they can help with mine removal! They are THAT smart. You give 'em bananas as a reward, and they will go over soil, with land mines, and squeak when they hear the clicking in the soil, but because they are so light, they won't cause the mine to blow up. Any animal over 5 lbs can sometimes activate the mines, but Gambian Pouched Rats weigh a lot less. Neat, right?"

"That is pretty neat," I concede.

"YEAH!," and the kid is all sugar-eyed-animated NOW, "maybe in the future, YOU guys can use smart rats like Belinda to help at bomb scenes? They can sniff for chemicals and squeak so you don't all get blown to smithereens?"

"Always a plus, not getting blown up!"

"YEAH! And instead of a K9 unit, you can have a Rat-Unit! Did ya know that the government used a rat like Belinda to wire an old building? They gave her gummy bears for her payment!"

"Gummy bears huh? That's almost a salary on par with the CBI's!"

The kid doesn't seem to get it.

"Yeah! Gummy bears! And-," his rambling comes to an abrupt end as he realizes Cho hasn't returned, nor has Lisbon.

"Where'd Teresa go? And Uncle Kim? I mean, there IS a party, right? We're gonna have a party?"

"Maybe they went to the kitchen?," I smile down at the child, before rising...slowly. The little creature is clinging with firm respect of the height, and the floor. Nervous.

"Let's go see who has come for the party, okay, Belinda?," I say softly, not wanting to spook the poor thing further. She's already been tossed about like a hacky sack today.

Julian rubs his hands together, hops up off the sofa.

Of all the times I should enter the CBI SCU kitchenette with a rodent on my shoulder... (even a cutesier than normal one, with low set ears and Christmas apparel)...

Tonight, with Madeline Hightower seated at the blue table, drinking something that suspiciously looks like egg nog...is...

...one of the worst possible times...

Just my luck.

Lisbon's back is turned to me, as she pours herself more coffee (her 5th? 6th? coffee for the day? her ulcer is never going to heal if she doesn't lay off the stuff!) talking (wonders of wonders) warmly to our head-boss.

I'm about to turn around and jet back out of the room as fast as is humanely possible [without flinging the approximately 200 gram animal off into space] when Van Pelt sees me, and effectively wrecks my escape with her general warmth and fabulously comprehensive interpersonal skills.

"Jane! Hey! No... don't leave. I brought egg nog. Rigsby brought rum...or are you Boss' designated driver?"

I don't turn around...only continue to edge towards the hallway.

"Happy Holidays to you, too, Patrick," Hightower rattles off dryly, assuming I'm trying to avoid her.

Which, I am.

Just for a slightly different reason than would be typical. Julian comes into the room fully now, hobbles on over to Lisbon.

"Hey, Teresa...can Belinda have some egg nog too? Belinda LOVES sweet things! James Cleary gave her a candy cane today at school!"

That does it. I might as well face the firing squad. Game's up.

I turn around. Grace sees the rodent first. She backs up, too. Just like Lisbon. But unlike Lisbon, she also lets out a little shriek.

"Oh, COME on," I say, with mock aggravation. "She's just a little animal! Belinda won't hurt you, will she Julian?"

Julian is already going, "no, oh no! Belinda's VERY nice. She's SUPER gentle!"

"It's a rodent. In the kitchen. That's not very sanitary, Jane," Lisbon barks, while Hightower - oddly enough - continues to serenely sip her nog, not really alarmed in any observable sense.

Heh. What do you know? Rigsby probably spiked the stuff a little prematurely...

"Oh come on, Lisbon! Belinda isn't going to spread the bubonic plague or something! She's a perfectly decent, friendly and healthy little pet rat, aren't you Belinda? Heck, if she were a dog..."

"I wouldn't want a dog in the kitchen, either," Lisbon cuts me off, all-points-bulletin serious.

"Liar!...Sure you wouldn't...," I scoff, "Miss-I-love-dogs-better-than-people! No...I know what this is about. You guys are just rat haters. Well, okay. I can't BEGIN to change that sort of deep seated prejudice. Besides, we know when we aren't wanted. Right Belinda?"

And I swear, the animal could be an actress, because she takes that exact moment to let out this most forlorn squeak, before she stands up on her hind legs, admonishing all for their scrooge-like mean spiritedness, her expression nothing if not...hurt.

Or maybe I'm just imagining the hurt...

At any rate, it's a most impressive balancing maneuver, though I still feel the need to sit down in the nearest chair, lest she loses her footing, and falls.

That would be a mess and a half!

"Jane! Take it out of here!"

"She's wearing a little HARNESS, Liss. A Christmas stocking with cartoon rats wearing little hats! And look at that itty bitty face! Don't ya just want to eat her up?"

"I'd rather not, thanks."

I'm not about to give up now. Victory IS mine! I can almost taste the egg nog nogginess of it, too.

"But she's pursing her lips, going, "...egg nog? please, miss, egg nog for the poor? The poor and disavowed?"

Hightower actually looks amused, which gives me hope. Hope and faith in miracles and the Christmas spirit. Because if the Christmas spirit can warm up ole Hightower's batty heart, than Lisbon's should be a good deal easier. She is, after all, a very loving person.

My Teresa's just exceedingly stubborn.

Which is the problem here now, I think.

"Please, miss, I want some more!," I try, with classic Dickens this time. I mean, what woman wouldn't melt for poor little Oliver Twist?

"Or any!," Julian adds to our pity party. "She would be oh-so grateful for just the smallest sip of egg nog, if you can spare that much!," the kid tacks on, quickly learning the ropes.

(And seriously...I'd give good old Jules a high five, if the little being sniffing around my hair wouldn't be dislodged and sail through the air like a sock puppet. Belinda, after all, is NOT a flying squirrel).

"Janeeee," and Lisbon's voice is turning into a growl.

"Well, now you SOUND just like her," and I point to Belinda, who has climbed down from my shoulder, to sit in my lap, her smaller than small legs sticking out so humorously that I suddenly feel as if an incredibly goofy looking monkey has decided to stretch out on my lap.

Ha...those ears, they just kill me!

To Belinda, I loudly whisper, "maybe if we can find YOU a Christmas hat, they'd like you better? We just have to dress you up bit, hey sweetheart?"

"Jane...no dressing up the rat!"

"But wouldn't that be CUTE, Liss? I mean, a rat, in an itsy bitsy Santa hat? I'd definitely want a photo of THAT!"


Lisbon's doing her 10-9-8 countdown mentally, I just know it...

"Hey, Grace...do you have anymore of that red construction paper lying around? I wouldn't need much - I mean, look at the size of her head! With a cotton ball and some floss and tape I could fashion her up a whole outfit in a jiffy, I think..."


Hightower waves her hand in magnanimous fashion.

"Don't worry about it Agent. But Patrick," and the stern eyes become grey steel, "this is the one and only night I'm allowing an animal in this kitchen."

"We're all animals here, Madeline. Or...some of us might be androids, but..."

Faintly, I hear Lisbon groan.

"You KNOW what I mean, Patrick."

I nod, happily.

"Pass the nog, Rigsby. The little lady wants a drink too, ya know!"

Rigsby just stares at me.

"No, not Lisbon. Lisbon has coffee, ya kook! BELINDA," I clarify, a gracious smile firmly in place.

Hightower stays for biscuits, then says a very boss-like adieu. I turn to my Liss, renewed expectation.

Don't ask me why I am so looking forward to it, either.

Oh you KNOW why. It'll irk Lisbon. You think it's adorable when she gets flustered!

Lisbon caves, and mutters, "fine...feed her the damn egg nog, Jane! What do I care?"

But it's Lisbon who tells me, not five minutes later, "careful, Jane. Too much sugar isn't good for it..."

"Her," I correct.

"Whatever. She's had half her body weight in egg nog already, I think that's enough now..."

The little rat continues to lap at the nog. I have poured bits into my hands, cupped and she's down to the last few licks.

"Gotta make that last, precious," I stress, upping the ante. "Mean ol' boss says NO MORE."

Lisbon almost chokes on her coffee (coffee with rum; no doubt the reason why she's started to relax).

"Did you just call the rat PRECIOUS?"

"Yes," I reply, all sunny ease and rum-doped charm.

"Why do you feel the continual need to bug me, Patrick?"

I feign ignorance.

"I have a refined appreciation for music, art, and the natural world - including the animal world."

"Ain't that the truth," Cho quips, mouth half full with a jam thimble cookie.

"Grinch," I sputter half heartedly, while Lisbon ambles over to where I'm now seated and edges my tea cup away.

"No more rum for you. You don't metabolize it well," she says warningly.

"Not like you can blame the rum on Jane's insistence to dress the rat up in a stupid hat. He wanted to do that before he was drunk," Risby adds, from besides the microwave.

"I'm not drunk, Rigster. Just festively mellow," I mutter, before fixing the red construction paper hat on Belinda's head for the 79th time that evening. "Leave it alone. You look dashing, my dear."

"Greeeat - now he's talking to it," Lisbon mutters, setting out a board game, counting paper pieces and mini pencils.

I sit up, excited, and finish chewing part of an evergreen shaped butter cookie.

"Oh cool! Board games?," and I read the title upsides down. "Scattergories? That sounds like fun!"

She gives me a grin, and places a piece of paper with various lists on the front in my general direction. The paper reads, "cereals", "things you'd find in a convenience store", "80's movies" and more...

"We can do this in teams, or individually. But I think-," Lisbon starts.

"Teams? Who plays Scattegories in teams?," Cho scoffs.

"Well there's 6 of us, including Julian," Lisbon tries, "do you really think it's fair if-"

She's cut off by the kid himself now. Julian has been od'ing on pastille mints all evening.

"I wanna play with Mister Jane! Can I be your partner, Mister Jane? PLEEEASE?"

Belinda squeaks in agreement, so Lisbon just hands Jules another sheet of paper, sighing.

My lady certainly knows when to concede defeat.

"Ok...so everyone knows how to play? Julian...Jane...pay attention, guys."

Julian continues to laugh at my latest joke, red faced. He has me laughing too. And the more he laughs, the more I want to laugh.

It's an endless cycle, really.

"We can't start until you shut up, Jane," Rigsby grouses.

"Someone's cranky...," I say, in mock-whisper.

"Joking about what sort of disgusting cereals you guys can dream up starting with the letter S hardly puts us in the Christmas spirit," Lisbon admonishes.

"Snot flakes!," Julian squeals to me. "Write it down, Jane!"

I try to, but Lisbon tears away my sheet and gives the form a look over.

"'Slobber Crisps'? 'Spittle Jacks'? I wouldn't even be able to score this...," she says under her breath.

"We should be given points for imagination!"

"Well sorry. That ISN'T how you play Scattergories! If you guys are just going to fool around, I'll lend you both some paper and you can sit off in the corner, amusing each other to no end I'm sure...while the rest of the group plays properly."

I aim for a look of adequate contrition, and Julian follows.

"You'll play properly?," Lisbon tries again, getting frustrated.

"Yes Teresa," Julian chimes.

"Sure, why not? Teresa," I smile.

"Good then," she grinds out. "So everyone now has a #8 card?"

The humble group dutifully nods and/or verbally indicates that they are ready to play.

Well, save for us.



"Here!," Julian pipes up, raising his hand, then looks at me and kicks me with his foot. We both start laughing again.

Maybe I am a little drunk, because everything is terribly funny right now.

Bing Crosby is singing about a white Christmas, which I think is sort of a daft choice of music.

Not much chance of that happening here in Sunny Sacramento...

Or maybe it's a pretty good choice of music, given how relaxing it is after the Jingle Cats fiasco that Julian had us play at top volume a half hour back (until Belinda freaked, that is; apparently the only thing scarier to a rat than a cat meowing, is a BUNCH of cats...meowing out tunes to cheesy Christmas songs!)

Lisbon slumps down, gazing at a now slumbering Julian.

"I wish you had told me that a kid was going to be coming to the bash. I feel like Scrooge! Everyone else had a gift for him!"

Lisbon smirks, "oh, I think he liked your impromptu gift the best, Jane. How much money did you feed into the vending machines anyway, huh?"

I let her snuggle up to me, carefully trying to avoid waking the slumbering child who is now clinging to his overloaded backpack as if it holds pirate treasure.

"Two $20's and a $10. It's all I had in my wallet. And it's all we could stuff in his backpack, anyway...so it all worked out, I guess."

Lisbon looks scandalized.

"You probably bought out every candy bar in the place! I'm sure his mom is going to just love you tomorrow! Rigsby, too..."

"Bahhh - I'm so not scared. Rigsby's like the Jolly Green Giant. Big but gentle. Anyway...not even a HINT?"

Tonight was the whole Secret Santa exchange. The theme was light hearted and/or gag gifts.

"No hints. Not that you won't have enough to keep you busy until then. Wuthering Heights, was it?"

I snicker, recalling Cho's gag gift for me, then nod. "And the sing-along Kate Bush song, of the same name."

I hold up my brand spanking new Kate Bush cd, and Lisbon chuckles.

"Better than Jingle Cats, though..."

"True. Anyway, I like what Grace got you..."

Lisbon rolls her eyes. "Us, technically. She's sort of pushing it, that one... I mean, Hightower never said anything inherently threatening about - you know, us, but-"

I look over, and seeing that Julian is still dead-fast asleep, take the moment to plant a smoochy kiss on Lisbon, cutting off her oh-so-serious ramble.

Pulling back, I give her a grin. "Aww, Liss. Lighten up. Our Gracie is just a romantic at heart. What she got us was sweet."

"She got you Gingerbread Man bubble bath!," she starts, frustrated with my lackadaisical nature. "And me...Gingerbread Girl body lotion!"

I tap into a serious artery, generate a mask of intensity - really wanting to floor her now.

"Apt though, as I do love bubble baths," I whisper in feigned seduction, my about-to-out me smile hopefully putting her at ease. I mean, we've covered this topic seriously before. I would never want her to feel awkward or nervous around me.

Apparently, however, there are some latent anxieties that aren't being dispelled anytime soon...

"This is what I'm talking about! Gingerbread bubble bath?"

This will take patience, Jane. She trusts you, but she's been through so much. Her fear is not going to evaporate overnight...

Time to turn on the humor.

"Well, honey, don't be too hard on her. I'm sure Mr. Bubbles, in all his non NC-17 cheer, was her first choice for me. But she knows I have such sensitive skin...thoughtful, really."

Humming the Mr. Bubbles theme song, I let out a strangled laugh-turn-yelp when Lisbon slugs me in the shoulder a moment later, the smallest smile now framing her dainty lips.

"Sing with me, Lisbon! "Mr. Bubblesgets you so clean your mother won't knooooow you!""

I continue on, bravely, despite glares. Hold up the sprig of green with the pearl-white berries, dangle it over her head.

Lisbon groans, muttering something along the lines of 'how the hell did I fall for such a goofball?'

"You're not going to shut up unless I kiss you, are you? That's your plan?"

Nodding, laughing, I hold the sprig higher.

"I'm not even going to ASK where you found that!"

I shake the little branch.

"Mr. Bubbles you're the one, Mr. Bubbles...'"

Lisbon pulls my jacket towards her, bites her lip.

"Only because there's a little boy that you're going to wake up otherwise. Don't think you can get away with this normally, buster!"

"Mr. Bubbles I forget the woooooords, la da da da, yadda ya, so mayyyyybe you should kissss me now, donnnnnnn't you thiiiiiink?..."

"Oh brother," Lisbon huffs, bringing her face close to mine and planting a series of soft, sweet kisses on my lips.

"You," kiss, "do not," kiss, "tolerate alcohol well!," and then a longer kiss, held two beat, a little bit of passion finally edging into the exchange.

When we seperate a moment later, I realize Lisbon is flushed, and I'm about to tease her when I notice young Julian Cho has awoken and is watching the show with a quiet, drawn curiosity. Lisbon pulls back suddenly, then gets up and makes up the most fabricated and obvious lie, muttering about needing to finish a report.


The kid looks perplexed as Lisbon scampers away - a question in mind.

"Fire away," I say, jumping the gun.

"What...what does NC-17 mean? Is that a special cop designation?"


Just brilliant.

"You know what...? I think that's something your Uncle Kim would be really happy to tell you about!"


"Oh yeah, I'm sure...," and speak of the devil - here comes Cho, keys in hand, ready to leave, "Cho! Good man...THIS little one is ready to drop. He's hallucinating now!"

I hand over Julian's backpack, filled with 48 candy bars (the kid ate two earlier). Cho staggers with the weight, before reaching for Belinda's carrier.

Eyes me suspiciously.

"Happy Christmas Jules, Cho, Belinda," and louder now to Grace and Rigsby who are sharing a bag of green and red coloured kettlecorn and re-reading over some of the Scattergories answers from earlier, giggling (well, Grace is giggling).


They shout out their goodbyes (Rigsby's is a little hard to hear given that his mouth is full of popcorn) while I make my way over to the elevators.

Lisbon is already waiting expectantly, and looks noticeably relieved when she sees me - punching the green down button in five rapid jabs to prove her point.

I usher her in gently when the doors open, then turn and stare with utmost focus.

"So," I start, "a whooooole week to Christmas. That's a lot of...time. Boring, white-noise time... Nothing but repeats of It's a Wonderful Life to sustain us..."

"Die hard," Lisbon holds up a hand, "There's always Die Hard, don't forget."

"What is it with you, and Die Hard? And anyway..."

"Forget it Jane. I said no hints, I meant no hints."

"I could always hypnotize you in your sleep, you know..."

Lisbon glowers at me.

"I mean, what's an itsy bitsy hint?"

"Do that and I'll mail your parcel Xpress post to Tommy. I'm sure he'd like it, too..."

"AHA!," I chirp, triumphant, "if it's something TOMMY could like - and Tommy sounds very different to me - than it's probably something...alterable..."

The glower turns red-hot.

"The basic structure must be there...but we must have some control over personalizing..."


"This narrows the gift options field down considerably! Thank you, Lisbon!"

Lisbon holds up her hands in exasperation.

"OK. Ok. I admit it: I got you that Build-a-Bear gift certificate that I know you've been DYING to receive!"

My smile slips, while Lisbon cackles.

"Don't worry, Patrick. There's a whole collection of stuffed animals to choose from...they might even have a rat! A little plush Belinda, all your own! Aww, wouldn't that be to die for?"

"It sure would," I volley back good naturedly.

When the doors open with a ding, I know I've been had, albeit temporarily, as Lisbon starts to laugh.

"Candle making kit?," I try again.

Lisbon laughs, "Ha! I SHOULDget you that; the look on your face would be priceless! Forget candles...we can have a vacation in historic Williamsburg! Candles he asks..."

"Wine making kit?," I supply, mostly asking to generate that little grimace-face that Lisbon does when she's annoyed, but not full-blown angry-with-Jane pissed.

It's cute.

"After tonight, yeah...I don't think so..."

"Tea making kit?"

"I got you a ridiculous amount of tea for your stocking Jane, but no. Jeez...TEA making kit? For Christmas? What sort of girlfriend do you think I am?"

I know it's a slip up the moment she turns scarlet, looks flustered.

Humor, again, seems like a safe bet.

"The kind whose boyfriend won't let her borrow the Gingerbread Man bubble bath anymore. Nuh uh. With all this teasing? I don't think so!"

She visibly relaxes, so I add - on a roll - "see... now I'm going to use those permanent ink markers, and write JANE'S GINGERBREAD MAN BUBBLE BATH! DO NOT TOUCH! in large font!"

Lisbon shakes her head, back to her happy and un-anxious self, before reaching over and giving me a peck on the cheek.

"Get in the car, you intoxicated fruitcake..."