Disclaimer: The Sentinel is a Pet Fly production, no copyright infringement intended.
Spoilers: (Most Episodes)
Author's Notes: For Shelley K.
Blair Sandburg walked into the loft and stopped, in some amazement. There was a garland twined with white pinlights strung around the balcony doors. A live tree in one corner, a dusty cardboard box in front of it, and several shopping bags with shiny new ornaments sticking out of the top. There was even a centerpiece on the dining table, balsam and pinecones and a fat white candle. The air was warm and smelled of cinnamon and vanilla. Jim Ellison was in the kitchen, in his green floral apron, sprinkling confectioner's sugar on something.
Putting down his backpack, Blair took off his furry Mad Bomber's hat and shook out his shoulder length hair. "Jim, I totally support you in getting in touch with your feminine side, but does she have to be Martha Stewart?"
"A smart mouth won't earn you any angel's wings, Chief."
Blair, shrugging out of his parka, started to argue, then got a better look at the light powdery twists of fried dough on the counter. His mouth watered. "Need any help?"
"You can heat up some of that beef vegetable soup for supper and get the table set while I wash up the last of the dishes."
Blair came past him and opened the fridge to get the Tupperware container of homemade soup. He took out two bowls, filled one, and put it into the microwave to heat, then got a loaf of rye bread out of the breadbox and uncovered the butter dish on the counter next to it, carrying them both to the table. "So you're really in the Christmas spirit this year," he commented, a bit surprised. Last year, their first Christmas since Blair had moved into Jim's loft, Blair had already had plans to go skiing with some college buddies, and Jim worked Christmas, to give one of the guys with kids the time off, trading for vacation days in good camping weather.
Jim was carefully drying the big yellow mixing bowl. "Yeah, well... I am. If you have, uh, a menorah or anything you want to put out, go ahead."
"Nah." Blair got out a couple of spoons and a butter knife and set them out. "I'm not, y'know, practicing. Half the time we did a tree anyway, Naomi liked the pagan symbolism of the evergreen, the green branches in the snow, the promise of Spring returning, that kinda thing. So what got you in a non-Scrooge mood?"
Jim was carefully nonchalant as he dried the cast iron frying pan. "I talked to Steven. He's coming over for a couple of hours on Christmas Eve... I invited him over for dinner but there's a corporate exec's party he has to go to."
Blair hid a smile. He'd been shocked to learn that Jim had a kid brother, when Steven Ellison had turned up as a suspect in a murder investigation. Jim and Steven hadn't spoken to each other for fifteen years, since a spectacular outbreak of sibling rivalry in which Steven had damaged their father's prized Cobra, and allowed Jim to take the blame for it. After clearing Steven, who was being set up by his boss, the brothers had begun to rebuild the broken family ties.
Blair had been watching the process, proud of Jim for taking the first step, with only a slight twinge of jealousy as an only child of a single mother, and because he knew Jim had focused some of those big-brother instincts on him alone in the past. Blair silently reminded himself that having his relationship with his brother back only enriched Jim's life and didn't make their friendship worth any less.
The microwave pinged, and Blair carefully brought the steaming bowl to the table, and put the other one in to heat, then put the lid on the Tupperware container and put it away. The hearty smell of the soup began to overpower the fading scent of baking, and Blair's stomach growled.
Jim chuckled. "Go ahead and eat."
Blair sat down and dug in, fishing a nice-sized shred of cabbage leaf out with his spoon, and buttering a slice of bread. A little while later the microwave pinged again, and Jim came out to join him. Blair buttered more rye bread and passed a couple slices to Jim. "I've got a few errands to run tomorrow. You need anything?"
Jim shook his head. "I've got all the groceries, mailed the last cards and everything."
They cleaned up after dinner, carefully packed away the fruits of Jim's attack of domesticity to savor later, after claiming a portion for that night. They decorated the tree, stringing it with colored lights, hanging the few battered ornaments from the box and the new red and silver balls Jim had bought for the purpose. Pine sap burned Jim's sinuses and the needles pricked his fingers, he complained good-naturedly. And afterward Blair made some tea and they sat on the couch watching television with a plate on the coffee table. Jim didn't even glare when some powdered sugar and crumbs escaped their napkins.
Blair wrapped his arms around himself as he walked down the porch steps, and let out a white puff of air. He'd only meant to drop off the Department TA's present for the Professor, but they'd invited him in, introduced him to their grandchildren, and then the Professor showed him the book he was working on, and his wife had brought him a cup of cocoa, and now it was five o'clock, pitch black, and beginning to drizzle half-rain and half-snow. Thankfully, the Volvo started right up, he got the windshield wipers going and turned the heat up.
It was a long drive back into Cascade. The Old Coast Road meandered, curving as it hugged the shoreline and the sheer cliffs that dropped away to the sea. There was a patch of black ice on the road, and an ill-timed sneeze. The small green Volvo spun, and slid, and crashed into the guardrail.
He fumbled with the catch of his seatbelt, then opened the unlocked door, before slumping over the wheel. The only sound was the horn's plaintive wail, the only movement a thin trickle of blood running down the side of his face from the gash on his forehead.
The temperature dropped. The rain turned to snow, thick curtains of heavy flakes, swirling in the wind, blowing into and around the battered car, obscuring it, and the banshee wind drowned out the sound of the horn. A car passed by, driving slowly, careful of the weather, and it's passengers never saw a thing.
He was aware of pain. And an icy chill that bit to the bone. And a soft insistent voice that had led him out of oblivion. He lifted his head, and stared at the woman kneeling beside his open car door. Melting snowflakes freezing to ice beaded her ash blonde hair with diamonds, sparkling softly in the light. Her eyes were a pure and brilliant blue. She was beautiful. And somehow Blair thought that he knew her, he just couldn't place where they had met.
"Blair, you're hurt. You need help. You have to get your cellphone and call for help," she told him.
Hurt. Yes, god he hurt. His head was pounding and he felt that dull ache in his chest like after the Iceman's bullets had hit the Kevlar vest he was wearing. He had to turn away to get the backpack on the seat beside him, and the stretch caused a wave of nothingness to engulf him, briefly, but he fought it to stay awake. Her voice calling his name, encouraging, was a lifeline.
He managed to get the cellphone out of his backpack, and open it. He held onto it tightly with a numb hand, picking out the numbers for 911 with trembling fingers. And for the first time noticed she was wearing a thin strapped pale green chiffon gown, and no coat.
"Cold," he muttered, confused.
"Yes, it's very cold. You need help, to get somewhere warm."
"No, you..." but the 911 operator answered. Distracted, he told her where he was and what had happened. The operator stayed on the line with him, until he could hear the approaching sirens. He wasn't sure when he noticed the woman had disappeared.
Jim looked up from his Reader's Digest as they wheeled the gurney back into the examining room. "Bruised ribs." Blair wearily confirmed Jim's sentinel-medic diagnosis made before they'd hauled him off to X-ray.
Jim nodded a little, then set his jaw. "You remember anything else about that woman?"
"S'nice lady." He yawned tiredly. The drugs they'd given him were beginning to kick in.
Jim snorted. "Leaving the scene of an accident. Possible witness, should have made a statement, waited for the police. One step away from hit and run, leaving you there like that," he grumbled.
Jim got to his feet as Doctor Thatcher came in. She knew them well from previous ER visits, confirmed Blair's bruised ribs and slight concussion, and released him to go home.
Blair spent a few days resting, with Jim fussing over him, making sure he took his medicine, fetching and carrying books and his laptop from his room, bringing him juice and snacks and letting him eat dinner on the couch in front of the TV. He was feeling better by Christmas Eve, retreated tactfully to his room after greeting Steven, and smiled at the voices and laughter coming from the living room as he sat on his bed reading. Steven was leaving as he had to make a bathroom run, so he said goodbye and wandered back out afterward.
Jim really pulled out the stops for Christmas dinner. Prime rib, mashed potatoes, tiny garden peas, home-made rolls, the works. Blair thought about the calorie and cholesterol count of this feast, but shoved those concerns aside for the holiday. He helped Jim putter around in the kitchen, then his mother called from her meditation on World Peace in the Holy Land, and he talked to Naomi for a while, eavesdropping half-suspiciously when she asked to talk to Jim and they chatted for a few minutes.
They ate, good food and quiet conversation, cleaned up, and then watched A Christmas Story together, laughing at the Bumpus hounds stealing the turkey and Ralphie snapping and beating up schoolyard bully Scut Farkass. Then a concert of classical music on PBS. When the local news came on, Jim turned down the volume and glanced over at Blair.
"You know, when Stevie and I were kids, we had a tradition we could open one present on Christmas Eve..." he trailed off invitingly.
Blair beat him to the tree. "You want to open what we got for each other?"
They picked out the wrapped packages from under the tree, among the others from family and friends. Jim tore the wrapping paper off his, Blair lifted the tape carefully so the paper could be reused.
"Aw, Chief. This is beautiful," Jim chuckled. "Hey, great minds think alike." Blair watched him lift out the blue cashmere sweater and hold it up, grinning, because he'd got it right, Jim really liked his present. It was a little risky, getting Jim something out of his LL Bean catalog, since Jim could've ordered one for himself. But it worked.
"Yeah, well. Sentinel. Cashmere. You've been complaining about having to wear a longsleeve tee under that gray Aran fisherman's sweater of yours 'cause it itches." He reached into his box and touched the peat green Acadia down jacket. LL Bean. "This is great, man, you shouldn't have..."
Jim shrugged. "You're always cold. Need a good winter coat instead of that ratty old parka you've had since high school."
"Merry Christmas, Jim."
"Happy Hanukkah, Blair."
They left the opened boxes on the floor by the tree, for morning. They headed back to the couch and TV. Blair reached for the remote on the coffee table, and paused, noticing the open photo album on the table. A snapshot of a vaguely familiar child with thick dark hair and blue eyes, wrestling playfully with a lighter-haired smaller boy caught his eye. "Hey, is this you and Steven?"
Jim looked. "Yeah. He brought it over, we looked at a few old pics, he thought I might want to look at it, you know, remember the good times..."
Blair wasn't listening any more. He was staring at a picture of a woman. Sunshine gleamed in her long ash blonde hair, and her blue eyes sparkled merrily. Jim's eyes. She was beautiful.
"That's my mom. The last time we saw her, after she walked out on the old man. She came over to drop some presents off for Stevie's birthday. She died a month later, driving drunk, coming home from a party. Out on Old Coast Road."
Blair lifted startled eyes to meet Jim's. "I'm sorry."
Jim shrugged uncomfortably. "It was a long time ago." He put on the Weather Channel. Blair sat back, pensively. Trying to compare the cheerful photograph with pain-blurred memory. Nah... it couldn't be. He glanced up to see Jim tilting his head, listening.
"What is it?"
"And an angel gets their wings..." At Jim's look of incomprehension, he explained. "It's A Wonderful Life? 'Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings."
"I've never seen that movie all the way through. I like Miracle On 34th Street better."
After a good-natured argument about the merits of the old classics, the two men said goodnight. The loft grew still and quiet. Midnight struck.
The ghost of Grace Ellison sat on the edge of her son's bed. She bent, to kiss Jim's forehead. He sighed and smiled in his sleep.
"I never meant to abandon you," she said sadly. "I wish I could explain. I went from being my parents' daughter to William's wife, I just wanted a little time for myself. I meant to have you boys in my life, once I'd made a fresh start. If I'd known how little life I had left..." She shook her head, peridot and pearl earrings glimmering in the moonlight. "You've forgiven Steven. I'm glad of that. And you're beginning to think about your father, there's still time left. Maybe someday, you'll even forgive me."
In Blair's room, she smoothed a stray lock of hair away, and kissed his cheek. "Thank you for watching over my Jamie, and for being his friend."
With that, she faded away into that realm of memory and regret which ghosts inhabit. And somewhere in Cascade, a bell rang.
~ End ~
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Page last updated 8/15/03.