A Reason to Celebrate

Jim bustled through the busy store, picking this string of lights and those ornaments. Everything had to be perfect. He had already picked out a small but absolutely beautiful tree, and had bought several presents and brightly colored, festive wrapping paper.

He was uncharacteristically cheery to the checkout workers, some of whom were anything but cheery in return. He could almost hear Blair's voice in his head. "Hey man, try to be understanding. These people are working long hours, dealing with grouchy customers, and frazzled co-workers. Be the ray of sunshine, man…not another cloud." So, Jim was trying, and actually surprising himself at how easy it was to be patient if he just channeled his enter 'Chief'. nbsp; His mood slipped just a little at the thought of his friend, who was usually the one who insisted on shopping for all this stuff. Jim could swear that 'festive' was Blair's middle name. He had teased him numerous times about a Jewish boy getting so into Christmas, but Blair always responded with a smile. "It's about the celebration of life, Jim. Peace on Earth, good will toward man. No religious lines need be involved." Jim shook his head and tried to shake the sadness he felt that Blair was not shopping with him this year. But, he was determined to do this for his friend, whether that friend could enjoy it or not.

Jim finally escaped the crowded mall, bundled all of his purchases into his truck, threw a tarp over all the bags and boxes - since it looked like rain (yet again) - and climbed behind the wheel. He'd stop by the loft, wrap the presents and pick up the tree and then call Simon. The Captain had wanted to meet him once he was ready, to help him decorate.

He managed to carry in all the presents and paper, leaving the lights and ornaments and other decorations in the truck. Once all the gifts were wrapped in cheerful paper with large bows sitting on top, and labeled with the recipients' names, he took a shower, changed into the garish red shirt that Sandburg had bought him two years ago and insisted he wear every Christmas Eve. He never did really mind giving Blair what he asked for – though he never would have told his friend that – but this year, it made him feel a little closer to Sandburg to keep in place as many as possible of the traditions the younger man had started.

Loaded with presents and a heavy heart, Jim trudged up the stairs of the long-term care facility. Simon met him at Blair's door, and took the presents so that Jim could say hello to the patient lying ever so still in the bed.

"Hey, Chief," Jim started, knowing he'd get no answer, "We're going to decorated your room as festive as you always make the loft. I know you'd want it to be cheery in here for Christmas." Jim brushed a lock of Blair's hair out of his face, and turned away to swipe a tear from his own face.

Simon was waiting at the door to help Jim get the Christmas tree from the truck. "The rest of the crew will be here in about two hours, Jim, so if we're going to have this place decorated by then, we better get moving.

It didn't take long to get the tree and the decorations into the room, and the two men set about adorning the little spruce with the lights and ornaments Jim had bought.

"Doesn't Sandburg have a huge box of ornaments and lights in your storage area, Jim?" Simon asked, "Why buy all new ones?"

"I just couldn't bear to go through all of his old memories to pick out just the right ones. Blair bought those with special childhood memories in mind, and bought some that reminded him of our experiences or of people he has met here in Cascade. I couldn't begin to pick out which ones might be the most important to him, and since a huge tree like the one Blair always insists on wouldn't fit in here, we couldn't possibly use all the ornaments." Jim glanced over to his friend's bed, half expecting him to chastise him about the small tree they were putting up, and the generic ornaments.

'The decorations should MEAN something, Jim.' He could almost hear Blair say.

'These will have to do, Chief,' he thought an answer back to the unspoken sentiment

The rest of the major crimes crew showed up en masse at just the right time. Each of them took a turn telling Blair 'hello'. The younger man was awake now…as awake as he'd been for the last three months…but still didn't acknowledge the company. He would sometimes move his head toward noise, or make brief contact, or, every once in a while, even track movement, but more often than not, he just stared ahead, when he had his eyes open at all. All the men, and even Rhonda, were subdued as they greeted their friend and moved on, but Megan would hear nothing of it.

"Sandy," she took her turn talking to Blair, "Just look at these 'gloomy guses', would you?" She turned toward the rest of the room. "Gentlemen…this is SUPPOSED to be a celebration!" With that, she set up the CD player she had smuggled in, and pulled out several Christmas CDs. "Okay, Sandy…which one do you want to hear first?" She spanned the choices out before him and read the titles, but he didn't focus on any of them. She ran the back of her hand down his cheek and said, "That's okay, mate. I'll pick one."

"Hey," Henry interrupted, "You narrowed them down that far. Don't you think WE should get a choice?"

"I didn't think you'd care, H." She quickly responded. "NONE of them are R-rated."

He rolled his eyes, and everyone chuckled…which, of course was what Megan was going for. She always tried to lighten the mood when they were all here with Blair. They usually staggered their visits, but occasionally gathered together to spend time with the younger man. It had been hard on all of them, but especially on Jim, since he was with Blair with 'it' happened. The team tried to be optimistic…if only to help Jim through this…especially now, around the holiday that Blair had loved so much. It was easy to get maudlin, seeing their hyperactive friend so still, but this was a Christmas party, and she was going to keep it light.

They finally agreed on a CD they all thought Blair would enjoy, and they settled in to hand out presents while singers were intoning about needing front teeth, or lamenting about their grandmother's untimely demise. When Jim went toward the bed to give Blair his gifts, he found that his friend had turned his head in the direction of the music.

"Hey Chief," Jim put his hand on the side of Blair's face. "Having a good day, today, huh?"

Blair didn't answer.

Jim shook his head. It always surprised him to realize that occasionally, he – very briefly – expected Blair to just 'wake up' and start acting like he used to… maybe with a really wide grin and a 'hey, got ya, Jim.' It never happened, of course, but Jim would take triumphs when they were presented – no matter how small – and to have any response at all out of his friend was a triumph.

"We all got you gifts, Darwin," Jim picked out his own gift, wrapped in wild colored paper that Blair would have chuckled over. "Here, open mine first." He picked up Blair's lax hand and placed it on the bow. To Jim's surprise, Blair's eyes followed the movement of his hand. Jim's smile widened, "A REALLY good day today. That's great, Chief."

The others in the room had been looking in Blair's direction, so they all caught the milestone. This was about as animated as they'd seen their friend since he was admitted to the hospital after the shooting all those months ago. Turning toward music AND tracking movement all within a half hour! They all continued to watch, expectantly, waiting for even more improvement, but Blair just stared at his hand where it lay on the bow, as Jim helped him pull off the bow, and move the loosened paper aside. Right about then, the song changed on the CD and Blair slowly moved his head again to listen to the music, then resumed staring straight ahead. Everyone in the room was amazed at how disappointed they usually were that there wasn't MORE improvement, every time Blair showed any improvement at all.

Trying to stay positive, Meagan pushed Jim aside. "Hey mate. Mine next." If she had hoped he would track her movement while she helped him unwrap her present, no one could blame her. She tried not to show her frustration when he didn't.

The evening went on, each person taking their turn helping Blair unwrap their present. He tracked sometimes and didn't others. He actually seemed to LOOK at Joel, when it was his turn. A wind up Santa that Rhonda had brought, got Blair's attention briefly, and he actually startled when Rafe's "Blair in a box" jumped out. (Rafe had said he just had to get it once he saw all the auburn curls on the jack-in-the-box, when he was shopping for a gift for his niece).

By the end of the 'festivities', Blair was asleep and the friends were emotionally drained. Jim ran a frustrated hand through his hair.

"I don't know what I was expecting," he finally admitted. "A Christmas miracle maybe? Have him finally 'wake up' all the way, talk to one of us…anything."

Rhonda was the voice of reason. "But we GOT a Christmas miracle, Jim." When everyone just looked at her, she continued. "When, in the last three months, have we seen him respond this much in one night? Or stay awake for that long at one sitting, for that matter."

"Yeah," Megan joined in. "He responded to sight and sound numerous times during the evening. Even the startle was an improvement. Nothing has gotten him to startle before. We've tried loud noises, sudden movement…nothing…before tonight."

"I'm with Jim," Rafe started. "I wanted more, but … I have to agree with the ladies too. It all was a step in the right direction."

"Hang in there Jim." Simon put his thoughts in. "We might get him back, yet."

Jim was quiet for a while, but then had to agree. "Okay, I see your point. That he lived through the shooting in the first place was a miracle in itself, and he's getting better all the time…not as fast as I'd like, but even the little he's giving us is more than the doctors predicted. So I guess, any time we get to spend with him…especially if he's reacting at all… is reason to celebrate."

Everyone said their goodbyes with a smile and a slap on Jim's back (or a hug in the case of the ladies) until just Jim and Simon were left in the room.

"Are you staying again tonight?" Simon asked. The staff at the long-term care facility had long since stopped trying to get Jim to leave. They had even brought in a cot for him to sleep on…which he did less now than when Blair was first brought here, but still did from time to time. The cot was folded up and sitting in a corner, right now…having been packed away to make room for the tree.

"Probably not the whole night," Jim admitted. "But I'm going to stay for a while. Ring in Christmas with him in… what, half an hour?" He looked at his watch. The friends had stayed a lot longer than anyone had intended, but as long as they were quiet, the staff didn't seem to mind. "I'll go home in a little while."

"What are your plans for tomorrow?"

"Sleep in a little, then back here to spend Christmas with Blair."

"Remember, you're invited to dinner with me and Daryl."

"Yeah, thanks Simon. I might. I don't know." Jim swiped his hand through his hair again. "It depends."

Simon looked at the sleeping young man and then back to Jim. "He really IS getting better Jim."

"I know," Jim admitted, "and I'll take what I can get. It's just sometimes hard not to wish for more."]

After he saw Simon off, Jim settled in a chair beside Blair's bed. His friend had opened his eyes somewhere along the line but Jim could never be sure if that meant he was really awake.

He slipped his hand into Blair's and squeezed a little. "Merry Christmas, Chief."

Blair's eyes turned toward Jim's voice, and locked on Jim's own eyes, just briefly, before dropping closed again.

"I'll take that as a 'Merry Christmas' from you too." Jim smiled and sat back to watch his friend sleep.

End