Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Author's Notes: Okay, here's my Christmas offering. There is literally no time early in the relationship when snow falls except during Siege. So this is set between Siege and The Killers, and be damned to any sane timeline ideas! Merry Christmas, everyone!


Poor Little Matchboy
by
Ismaro

ligela@sympatico.ca

 

The weather was nippy, and as he gunned into the Major Crimes department, Blair Sandburg was the picture of misery. His ears were an angry red and he was rubbing them with his equally red fingertips, which dangled from useless half-mittens. His nose rivalled Rudolph's, and he was stamping his feet to get the circulation going in them. Winter in Cascade could be brutal.

He looked around, smiling brightly at the pale blue flickering fairy lights, which hadn't been up the day before. "Hey," he said to the room. "Nice."

The main contingency of Cascade's finest detectives looked up and hey'd or hi'd the police observer while everyone else gave him the once-over and pointedly ignored him, as usual, then went back to work.

Sandburg hustled over to his partner's desk. Jim Ellison was nowhere in sight, and Blair cast about for someone who might know where he was. Rhonda, Captain Simon Banks' secretary, was on her way over, rattling a suspicious looking shoebox.

"Hey, Rhonda," Blair greeted her. "What's that you're carrying? Cookies, I hope!"

"Nope," the blonde smiled back at him. "Secret Santa entries." She waggled the box under his nose.

It took a moment for Blair to take the hint. "OH!," he said abruptly, scavenging around Jim's desk for a pen. "Sure thing." He scribbled on a bit of paper, screwed up the entry until it almost vanished, and stuck the thing through the slot on top. "There you go!"

Rhonda rattled the box, and Blair's entry fell right through the less mangled lot, into the farthest, darkest corner a cardboard box could have.

It wasn't until two days later that anyone realised something was amiss.

"Captain Banks?" Rhonda asked as she dropped off some reports for him to sign.

"Yes, what is it, Rhonda?" Simon asked, paying much more attention to the reports than to his secretary. When she didn't answer, he looked up to see her biting her lip.

"I think something's wrong with the Secret Santa box."

Simon took the opportunity to remove his glasses and run a large hand down his face. Why do crooks decide to make Christmas hell on earth for the citizens?, he asked himself as he had done every winter for twenty years. "What could be wrong with the Secret Santa thing?" He sounded tired. He already knew who he was buying for (Rhonda herself) and he clearly felt that that was sufficient participation for the captain of the Department in the game for one year.

Rhonda shrugged her shoulders, and started to go, but the lip remained pinned between her teeth. Simon sighed and tried again. "Okay, okay, wait. I can take a minute for this. What's wrong?"

"Well, I'm always the last person to draw a name," she said, and Simon nodded understanding. "Only this year I drew the second last ballot because I didn't know when the other person could draw one for himself, and I wanted to get my shopping done today after work."

Simon lifted his eyebrows. "And what's wrong with that?"

"I drew Jim's name."

Simon was astonished. "Jim? He's never participated in Secret Santa? How'd you get him to enter?"

Rhonda drew a deep breath. "That's just it. I didn't ask him." A frown creased her face in various places. She was remembering the first time she had asked the handsome detective, who could give attitude lessons to Mr. T, if he would participate in the tradition. It was a memory she would have liked to forget.

"Then, how?" Banks asked. He couldn't even imagine Jim Ellison, hard-nosed and hard-assed, submitting his name.

"I asked Blair," Rhonda said, and Simon's face softened a teeny, tiny, little bit. As much as he might dress the grad student down for such imperfections as not being a cop or not following SOP, there were a lot of people in Major Crimes who had reason to smile and soften up for Blair Sandburg. He might not have been a police officer, but not many weeks before, he had played Garret Kinkaid like a pro, letting himself be taken hostage rather than any of the real cops—or Rhonda or Simon's son, Daryl, for that matter—instead.

"So what's wrong with that?"

"He only put in one name, and it must have been Jim's. I meant Blair to enter himself, and he hasn't. I don't know how Jim will take it if he has to buy something for someone else and wrap it and everything." Rhonda put up a hand as if to ward off Jim's spectacular lack of interest in the Christmas season and its traditions.

"I see." Simon Banks thought for a moment. "If the kid hasn't drawn a name yet, who's left over?"

"I don't know," Rhonda admitted. She held out the shoebox with its single slip of paper. "Want to see, Captain?"

Simon snatched the entry from her, unfurled it and said, "Oh." It was his own name. "Tell you what, Rhonda. Switch with me, so I don't have to buy for myself, and I'll take care of Jim's gift."

"But Blair's being left out," Rhonda protested with feeling. "He must have thought I wanted him to enter Jim. But why didn't he put his own name in too?" She was blinking in confusion.

Simon thought about that, too. He remembered the threadbare jacket and jeans he'd glimpsed disapprovingly a day or two before, then dismissed as not his problem; and took time to consider the kid's innate modesty, his unwillingness to go where he wasn't wanted. Oh, shit! "Never mind, Rhonda," Simon returned at last, reaching for his glasses again. "I'll take care of it."

Rhonda nodded, gathered the outgoing mail stack and left. "Thanks, sir."

Simon made a study in brown for a few minutes, then picked up the phone and made a lunch date with Captain Joel Taggart of the Bomb Squad.


"Look, Chief, I just don't do Christmas. Period. I work the holiday shift and let people who actually observe the holidays have the time to themselves. Personally, I think that's an all right thing to do," Jim announced, almost belligerently, hands flexing on the steering wheel.

Blair Sandburg paused before he let loose an onslaught of reassurances. "Oh. Okay, Jim, that's cool; I just didn't know, is all. Working the shift is fine; only I thought you had seniority and would take advantage of it for the holidays." He was intending to go on, but was interrupted by an explosion of Mount Rainier.

"What, and stay home watching Christmas movies? I've seen every version of 'A Christmas Carol' or 'Scrooge' ever made a half a dozen times each, and 'It's a Wonderful Life' strikes me as pap for the masses. Don't even ask about Christmas cartoons. I have a very visceral reaction to them." Jim was gritting his teeth.

Blair swallowed once. He had thought that he and his irascible Sentinel might spend the holidays together. There was that plan shot to hell. A sudden insight struck. "Uh, Jim?" he asked almost timidly.

"Yeah, what is it now, Chief?"

"Do you even do the Secret Santa thing at the department?" he needed to know.

"Why would I do that?" the Grinch returned. "Throw money away on a meaningless present for someone I hardly know, just to get a meaningless present I can't use in return! Why doesn't anyone give white socks to people for a gift? At least they'd be useful!"

Blair's vision of his Sentinel, alone and lonely, in a season full of cheer and goodwill to others, working. dealing with criminals who had no respect for either the holidays or other people, was blindingly black.

"Oh, okay," Sandburg said. He didn't say another word as they drove to the scene of the last of a string of serial killings of transients. He was busy trying to think his way out of the Secret Santa dilemma.


They returned to report their findings (Jim had found trace evidence, with the help of Blair's suggestions about the use of his Sentinel senses) and Jim was down in Forensics badgering someone about getting the results ASAP. Sandburg scurried away and headed directly for Rhonda.

"Hi, Rhonda?" he asked, rubbing his cold palms together. "You busy?"

Rhonda smiled. Of course she was busy. Simon Banks was her boss and he liked busy people. "Not too busy," she fibbed.

Blair smiled with relief. "Uh, about that Secret Santa thing."

The smile froze on Rhonda's face. "Yes?" She wasn't sure she wanted to hear what came next.

"I, um, entered Jim's name, and I guess he doesn't do that kind of thing." He was sending beseeching puppydog eyes the way of the blonde. "How do I get him out of it?"

"I'm not sure," Rhonda said slowly, having no idea what Simon was planning. "I'll have to check back with you."

"If you can find out who Jim would have drawn, I can, um, cover the gift, I guess," Blair offered with a little discomfort, unconsciously fingering the outline of his wallet in his jeans pocket. His stomach rumbled loudly and his expression turned sheepish. "Sorry. I haven't eaten yet today. Too busy."

It was three in the afternoon.

Rhonda turned away. "I'll have to check it out. I don't know right now, and..." She gestured at a pile of papers on her desk.

"Oh, yeah, sure," Blair said hastily. "Sorry to have bothered you. I just don't want someone shorted because I screwed up and entered Jim. Don't let him know, okay? Tell me who to buy for and that'll be fine."

"Someone will be buying for Jim, you know," the secretary mentioned.

"Well, that's okay. Jim can use a little good cheer, you know? He's such a curmudgeon about Christmas, I can't believe it. I mean, I'm Jewish, but we always had a Hanukkah bush!" The police observer grinned. "His idea of a perfect gift is white socks. Go figure!"

Rhonda had to laugh at that. "Okay, Blair, I'll get back to you on this. Just let me take care of business first, all right?"

"All right!" Blair smiled his thanks, and stamped his way to Jim's desk, trying to warm up before his partner appeared.

Rhonda watched him thoughtfully, and went to tap on Simon Banks' door.


"Geez, wouldja look at that," H mentioned to Rhonda.

"What, Henri?"

"Hairboy. Damn if he isn't iced like a birthday cake! You know, that just ain't right!" Brown was indignant.

Rhonda nodded her agreement. They spent a couple of minutes surveying the gelid mass huddled at Jim's desk and chattering to each other.

Covered with the sifting of Cascade's first blizzard of the month, Blair Sandburg was in Major Crimes again, thawing out messily. It was the day after he had spoken to Rhonda, and he still hadn't heard what was to be done about the Secret Santa draw. He really needed to know what to do, for the gifts were to be opened the next day, the eve of Christmas Eve. If he had to provide a parcel, he would have to purchase the gift that night. He sighed and stopped at Rhonda's desk.

Before he had a chance to open his mouth, Rhonda opened her desk drawer and fished out a mangled piece of paper. "Here you go," she said, handing it to him.

"Oh! It's Jim's name!"

"Yes, the last in the box," Rhonda stated, ignoring the period of time when it had been out of the box. It was in the box and that was all that was needed.

"Well, I guess I know what to get him." He exchanged an amused glance with the blonde woman.

"White socks!" they chorused, loudly enough that the others in the department turned to look at them, and turn back again, sniffing.

Then Jim Ellison appeared and Blair was able to look him in the eye with a clear conscience for the first time since the revelation had befallen the police observer that Jim Didn't Do Christmas.

Jim noticed that. He wasn't a Sentinel for nothing, and his tagalong had not yet won over his deepest suspicions of the goodwill of men. Jim identified some paperwork that Blair could be busied with, and left him behind, to go consulting his boss.

"Captain?" Jim knocked at the door, entering without permission as was his wont.

"Detective, detective," came the jovial response. "Come in, Jim, come on in."

If Jim had been suspicious before, he was downright agitated now. "What's wrong, Simon? What's Sandburg done now?" Then he muttered, "I knew I couldn't trust him. I just knew it."

Banks' face lost a tad of its geniality at that, but then resumed the original great beaming facade. "Sandburg? I don't know, Jim. What has he done? I thought he was out helping you with the Sentinel thing. I thought he spent today, yesterday and the day before yesterday out on the streets in the dead of winter tracking down leads on the Blade Runner case. He didn't do that?"

Something in Simon's tone made Jim squirm. "Yeah, he did."

"Well, then, I imagine he spent his free time warming up from the chill. It's bitter out there, isn't it?" Simon fingered a nice Havana, and inhaled its perfume. "I really feel for you, Jim, having to spend that kind of time on the streets of Cascade in weather like this." He tucked the cigar away for later. "I did enough of that as a patrolman myself. I remember it. I also remember I didn't get paid enough to do it! Were you in about the Christmas bonus? There isn't one this year. And, of course, Sandburg isn't on the payroll."

Jim blinked hard and tried to analyse the curve ball his friend and superior had just thrown him. "No, no. I wasn't expecting a bonus. I just... I wasn't sure... Is Sandburg meeting with your requirements, Captain?"

The captain of Major Crimes nearly jumped down his premier detective's throat. "Now why would you ask such a thing?" Banks needed to know. "Do you know something I don't, Jim?"

"No, no, I don't," Ellison found himself saying in reply. "He's... totally satisfactory." Jim turned to leave when a very carefully muted comment made him stop on a dime.

"Totally dedicated, I'd think."

Jim stopped, petrified by the implications of the remark, then slowly, slowly headed back to his desk, where Blair Sandburg was inputting data and shivering from snowmelt dripping off the long curls on his shoulders.

James Joseph Ellison was a detective, a fine one, and he knew a clue when it was thrown in his face.


The next day rose brilliant with snowglare. Ellison had to wear dark glasses, provided, of course, by Sandburg. Jim peered suspiciously at him, at them, and finally through the lenses. Yes, indeed, they did make his life much better. Ellison threw a dark stare at Sandburg, who scrunched back in the truck, trying to make himself smaller than life, a look of utter confusion on his face.

Ellison decided to go through with his plans. He spoke quickly with Captain Taggart of the Bomb Squad, handing over his keys to the truck, and later picking them up again unobtrusively, with thanks.

Taggart called Banks immediately thereafter, and they had a quiet conversation, captain to captain.

The better part of the day was spent in consolidating evidence in the string of murders, with Sandburg doing a fine job of organising the various files and cross-checking them with Jim for similarities. Between them, they finally caught a break when Blair pointed out that the victims had all turned out to be Catholic, and Jim put that fact together with a list of Catholic missions, so that a pattern was formed. They congratulated themselves on their conviction that they had identified the next shelter where the killer would strike, and went together to Banks' office to brief him and get authorisation for a stake-out. Simon Banks was genuinely impressed and showed it. The detective and the tagalong both shone with satisfaction.

No sooner had the stake-out been arranged than Rhonda called for the group's participation in the Secret Santa draw. Everyone gathered around the midget Christmas tree she had set up in a corner, which was resting awkwardly on a high pile of green, red and gold-wrapped parcels. Everyone but the Scrooge of Cascade.

Rhonda played Mrs. Claus, Major Crimes being far too hectic to allow for a guy in a Santa suit, and Simon Banks being absolutely set against any tall person being chosen to don the affair. He was much too tall himself to be at all sanguine about his own chances in those stakes.

"Henri," she called out, and Brown took his present, a new blues CD chosen by someone in the department who knew his tastes, with much thanks. The next set of gifts were distributed and laughed at or accepted gratefully, as the case might be. A bottle of peppermint foot lotion and a foot massager was one of the higher points of the unwrapping, a patrol officer named Moynihan being the happy recipient. Rhonda herself received a bottle of her favourite cologne, Opium, from Simon, and she gave him a peck on the cheek which would have turned him scarlet if he hadn't harrumphed chidingly. The rest chuckled heartily, especially when Simon pecked her back when he opened the pocket-sized humidor she had bought for him.

But there were still a load of presents under the tree, which had toppled over and been set back up twice already.

One was tagged 'Jim'. "Hey, Ellison!" and "Over here, Jim!" and "Detective, your presence is required!" rang out before James Joseph Ellison was hauled bodily out of his seat by two good-sized detectives, scowling with exasperation at him. What a downer he could be at Christmastime! No one was going to let him get away with that this season!

"Whaaaaaat?" Ellison choked out. "I'm not in this. I'm never in this!"

"This year, you're in this, Ellison," Simon Banks told him with authority. "Your name was in the shoebox."

"How could my name have gotten in the shoebox?" Jim asked with outrage. "I never do Secret Santa!" His Gorgon face jumped from Simon to Rhonda to... Blair Sandburg. "YOU did this to me, didn't you?"

His ridealong shrank back and Simon, Henri and Rhonda all stepped between Blair and his about-to-be-gifted Sentinel.

"Some people are never happy," Simon declared under his breath.

"I HEARD that!"

"You were meant to!"

Jim Ellison threw a glare all around the room and finally said with an absolute lack of graciousness, "Okay. Give it here."

The small soft parcel was wrapped in a vibrant blue paper, spangled with small white snowflakes. A very manly package it was, and without any further adornment but the matching cardboard tag with his name on it. Jim squeezed it, rattled it, and finally sniffed at it. The whole room groaned.

"For the love of Mike, just open the damn thing, willya?" Brown asked on behalf of all.

Ellison scowled fiercely, but began to undo the gift, tugging with small precise movements at the tape. No one believed it.

"That's it, I've had it, this is how you open a Secret Santa present," Rhonda announced, snatching the blue thing from his hands and ripping the hell out of the paper. She handed it back scornfully.

Jim pulled out a super economy-sized packet of white, 100 percent cotton, athletic socks.

"Ooooh," crooned all the detectives, jealous of his haul. It was so much more than peppermint foot lotion could ever be.

"I love this," Jim whispered. The socks were just so white, so cottony, so Jim! He started to blink rapidly, and pushed a blind trail out of the madding crowd to hold it to his chest. At last, a gift he could appreciate! Christmas was Christmas indeed for James Joseph Ellison. Santa had gotten around to this good little boy at last.

Blair Sandburg was at his shoulder. Jim reached out and hugged him to his breast. "I love this, Chief." If only Sandburg had had Sentinel hearing, he might have heard another profession of affection. But alas, Sandburg had to settle for a heartfelt murmur of "Thanks".

"S'okay, Jim. I'm glad you like them," Blair said, patting Jim hard to make him let go.

Yet there were still more presents beneath the tree, and each one of them was designated, "Blair S."

"For me?" Sandburg was filled with awe. He took the first red-wrapped gift and was about to squeeze, rattle, etc., until Rhonda gave him a firm swat. He looked up at her and bobbed his chin forcefully. Torn open, the package revealed a sturdy pair of sheepskin gloves.

"Wow!" Blair uttered. He put them on. They were a perfect fit.

Henri Brown smiled to himself.

Rhonda handed out the second parcel, a green-on-green design. Blair took off the gloves in order to undo his present. It was revealed as a warm red woolen toque.

"Man!" Blair cried. He put it on, and kept it on.

Rhonda nodded with great satisfaction.

The third parcel, white and silver, torn open, produced a warm red woolen scarf.

"Oh, boy!" Blair shouted, draping it around his throat.

Simon grinned with delight at Rhonda.

There were no more presents under the Major Crimes Christmas tree, but it was not the end of the gift-giving.

At the very last moment, Santa appeared. With a hearty ho-ho-ho and an even heartier tan, Mr. Claus bore in both hands a huge box wrapped with gold foil.

"Merry Christmas, Blair Sandburg!" Santa greeted the overwhelmed tagalong, then booted it for the john before the Bomb Squad could see the wretched example he was setting.

Blair just gaped at the parcel in his arms.

"Cmon, kid!" Simon encouraged him.

"Yeah, Sandburg, hurry it up."

"We want to see too."

All around the room comments were flying. Blair stared at his friends, yes, not just his colleagues or the guys who had to put up with him, but his friends!, and found his courage at last.

He parked the parcel reverently on a desk top and began to undo the tape. He went just fast enough for Rhonda to hold back her autonomic nervous response. Soon enough the recycled cardboard could be seen, the logo of "Cascade Discount Menswear" emblazoned on the top on black ink.

Blair gulped hard and looked around mistily. People were pushing their hands at him to urge him on, and he fumbled with the tape that was holding the box's top to its bottom. Blair nodded once, and pulled the package open with a mighty jerk.

"Oh, my God," Blair said reverently.

Everyone ooooooooh'd louder than they had for the white cotton socks.

Here was a gift to warm the cockles of one's heart, and one's shoulders, and one's midriff, and a bunch of other places one had.

It was a sheepskin jacket in a small size.

He put it on. He did it up. He turned all around. It fit. It was just the right size for Blair Sandburg. It might have been made just for him! Handkerchiefs were in short supply. Rhonda handed out tissues.

"Thank you, everyone," Blair chanted, "thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Only Simon Banks could restore order to the room. "All right, ladies! Back to work!"

Slowly, slowly, the throng broke up until only Jim and Blair were left standing by the Christmas tree.

"Jim, it was you, wasn't it?" Blair asked softly, petting his jacket with his regloved hands.

"White cotton socks!" Jim exulted, still lost in his own revelation of the meaning of the season: getting what you wanted at someone else's expense.

"I thought so," Blair whispered.

"Hey, Chief?" Jim was finally broken out of his reverie.

"Yeah?"

"How are you spending Christmas Day?"

"Uh, um, I, I don't have any real plans..." Blair was bright-eyed.

"How about you and me stake out the mission for a double shift in the truck, then go for Wonderburgers, my treat—assuming we don't find the killer and he doesn't send us both to the hospital, that is."

"Gee, Jim, that sounds... perfect!"

And so the poor little matchboy found himself warm for Christmas and beyond, wrapped in the tangible love of his Sentinel, and the Sentinel's heart overflowed with love for all mankind. Who needs matches, of which there has been no mention so far, btw, but which mention now validates the title, when the heart is warm?

What wonders white, 100% cotton, athletic socks can work!

~ End ~


E-Mail Ismaro at ligela@sympatico.ca
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Page last updated 8/15/03.