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Unboxing Christmas



"There. Finally." Blair stepped back to admire his work. The large Christmas tree looked straight to him. Even if it was fake it was green and full and looked perfect in front of the balcony doors where the glass would reflect the lights back into the room. Now he could get to the fun part... decorating it. Looking around at the boxes scattered around the loft floor he sighed, there was no way of knowing what was in each box, they had all just been labeled CHRISTMAS. He was sure that Jim "Mr. Anal Retentive" himself probably had an itemized list somewhere of each box's contents. At least the tree had been kept in its original box. A little digging had finally produced the tree stand, skirt and a beautiful wreath that was now hanging on the front door. As he looked at the Christmas boxes his eye was drawn to the small menorah sitting on the table behind the couch. He'd been shocked when Jim said he didn't mind him putting it out and even if he didn't join him he stood respectfully nearby each night as he had lit the candles and recited the blessings. He knew he didn't keep his faith as well as he should, didn't go to temple nearly as often as he should, but at Chanukah the lighting of the candles was the one act of faith he tried to keep every year. Tonight would be the lighting of the third candle.

Blair hoped what he was doing here today would help to show how much he appreciated everything Jim had done for him. He was well aware that his 'one week' had been up a few months ago but Jim had never even hinted that he wanted his loft back to himself. Even after Larry the Ape went back to the University he kept waiting for Jim to bring up his leaving but he never did. Now they seemed to have settled into a comfortable routine with each other. Jim had even found an old bookcase at a yard sale, fixed it up and put it in his room. His room. He never thought he'd like the sound of that but now it felt right somehow, just like living here with Jim felt right. Blair shook his head. Enough of this, he had get moving if he wanted to be finished before Jim got home. He opened another box. Eureka! Lights and garland. Of course these lights weren't in a big tangled mess, no way. They were all in their slightly worn original box; each light nestled between its Styrofoam holders. Bless you Mr. Anal Retentive. After checking to make sure all the lights worked Blair was soon stringing them around the tree, often wishing he had Jim's longer reach. When he finished he turned them on. The permanent white lights were mixed with the twinkling colored ones, the effect was not only pretty but the contrast should keep Jim from zoning when he looked at them. Satisfied he started hanging the garland.

As he worked his mind turned back to the last few weeks. It had been a hectic time for both of them. Jim was heavily involved in the Becker case—one those frustrating, dead end at every turn type of cases. He, himself, had been in the middle of semester finals, with the ones before the Winter break always seeming to be even more chaotic than usual. But now he was free for two weeks and having remembered seeing these boxes in the storage area when he was putting a few of his things in there earlier, he thought this would be a nice way of helping Jim out since neither of them had had any time to even think about decorating lately. And it was only a few days until Christmas after all. Stepping back he looked at the tree and smiled. The garland's symmetry looked perfect. Yes, he still had the touch. Turning to another box he found that it contained various decorations for the house. He pulled out a large, antique looking snow globe. Inside was a small village complete with people and even a horse drawn sleigh. He shook it and watched as the snow swirled around. It was beautiful. He carefully set it on the coffee table. He'd fix up the loft when he was done the tree. Opening a new box he found what he was looking for, tree ornaments. Humming along with the Christmas CD playing in the background he started to arrange the different ornaments on the tree.

A worn out Jim Ellison gratefully pulled into a parking spot in front of the loft. Catching Becker this morning had been a pure fluke but he'd take getting that head case off the street any way he could. Brown had called it their Christmas miracle and even though he personally wanted nothing to do with Christmas he had agreed with the other detective. The other miracle had been when after Becker was processed and the initial paperwork done Simon had actually given him the rest of the day off, telling him to go home and get some sleep. He hadn't argued.

For a moment he was surprised to see Sandburg's Corvair here during the day then he remembered that his school break started today. Good, the kid was looking pretty frazzled there himself. As he entered the building he almost groaned at the OUT OF ORDER sign on the elevator door. Then he recognized the handwriting. That damn Curtis kid again. His school must be out for the holidays too. When he got bored he thought it was funny to put these signs on all the elevator doors and watch people grumble as they take the stairs. Even though Brad hadn't done it in a while he was still going to have a serious talk with the boy's parents. There were a few elderly couples living here now and Mrs. Hernandez was seven months pregnant, it wasn't funny. After ripping down the sign and putting it in a nearby trashcan he pushed the button and stepped in when the doors opened then noted that the car rose upwards with no problems. Oh yes, the Curtis' were in for an earful.

Exiting the elevator he headed towards the loft then stopped dead in his tracks, staring at his door. Hanging on the front door of his loft was a Christmas wreath. No, his Christmas wreath, his family's Christmas wreath. What the Hell?? Listening he could hear Christmas music coming from inside. If Sandburg did what it looks like he did then he had gone way over the line this time. Opening the door he stood in the doorway and stared. Oh God, no. He didn't. But he obviously had. Standing in his living room was his Christmas tree, almost totally decorated. How dare he? And there he was adding another one of those ornament that he hadn't seen, hadn't wanted to see, in years. Jim was seething; he couldn't believe that Sandburg would actually dare to do something like this without asking first. When he spotted his mother's globe on the coffee table he couldn't contain himself any longer.

Blair was just hanging another ornament when he heard the front door open. It couldn't be Jim already! But it was. Busted. He started to explain what he was doing as he finished hanging the ornament. "Hey Jim. I wanted to be all finished before you got home." He turned around to see his friend's expression at what he had started. "You've been so busy lately that I thought... I'd... surprise... you..." Blair faltered. He had expected Jim to look surprised and was hoping for pleased but furious wasn't what he expected. "Jim?"

Jim exploded as he slammed the door shut behind him. "Just what the Hell do you think you're doing, Sandburg? Who told you you could touch any of this? Or put this stuff up in MY home? Is this what you do when I'm not around? Go through my personal things? Maybe it's time to rethink this living arrangement."

Blair was too shocked to move. He had never seen Jim this angry. To have all that rage aimed directly at him was terrifying. Coherent speech didn't seem to be an option at the moment even as he tried to explain. "I wanted to... I mean... Decorating... For you... T-Thought you would... like it..." Oh God, he's gonna kill me right here. When Jim took a step forward, his eyes glaring at him like ice blue lasers he instinctively ducked his head down and raised his arms up protectively. "Jim, please. I didn't mean anything..."

Seeing Blair cowering in front of him shocked Jim out of his initial rage but the anger didn't dissipate. He took a step back towards the door. He had to get out. It was just too much. "I'm leaving. When I get back I expect all this..." He waved his hand around the room, "... to be gone." Ignoring Blair's stricken face he turned and left, slamming the door again on his way out.

Blair stood in the same spot, shaking, trying to grasp what had just happened. Of all the reactions he thought Jim might have to his impromptu decorating of the loft he never expected that. He ran a still trembling hand through his hair as he thought over what Jim had said. "Go through my personal things." He would never do that. Never. He just never thought of Christmas decorations as 'personal' things. And the way he said, "... MY home." Well the implication of that was clear enough. It was Jim's home, what right did he really have to think that he could make any changes, even temporary ones like this. But "time to rethink this living arrangement"? Apparently Jim no longer felt he could be trusted to be in his home alone. And it was the thought that Jim no longer trusted him that hurt worse than everything else combined. He looked around the room and at the tree that just a short time ago he thought would make Jim happy. Nothing he could do now but take it all down. And start looking for a new place to live.

Jim heard the door slam behind him as he left the loft. He had to fight the urge to turn around and rip those damn bells off the wreath. His mind was still reeling from the unexpected shock of seeing all the old Christmas things in the loft. Especially his mother's old snow globe. Seeing that had just unleashed too many long buried, unpleasant memories. Ignoring the fake OUT OF ORDER sign on the elevator door he pushed the button and was rewarded as the doors immediately opened for him. Once back outside the cold air started to clear his head as he started walking up the street. He wasn't even sure himself where all that anger had come from. No, he knew exactly where it came from. For years he had suppressed it, hiding it away deep inside himself, just like he tried to hide any physical reminders of what used to be by boxing them up and never looking at them either. It was the shock of suddenly seeing those reminders again after all this time that had broken down his carefully built walls and finally released all those suppressed emotions. Unfortunately the true recipient of that long buried anger was long gone so he had instead turned it lose on the only substitute available. The unwitting person who by unboxing the physical reminders also unboxed the deep emotions that also went with them.

Jim was half way to the coffee shop but he stopped walking. What he had just done to Sandburg was unpardonable. Blair had just been trying to surprise him. He just had no idea how well it had worked. He had no way of knowing that his mother had left them at Christmas and how he had come to resent the holiday ever since. His father kept up their family traditions, used the same tree every year, the same ornaments, even put out the same decorations including his mother's favorite snow globe that she had gotten from her mother. But for him Christmas had died the year he turned eight. Even when his father had given him all the family decorations when he and Carolyn got married he couldn't bear to use them. They stayed in storage while Carolyn went out and bought all new things for them to use and then, at his urging, took them with her when she left. He had no use for anything relating to Christmas. Seeing the boxes marked CHRISTMAS it was natural for Blair to assume he used them, after all why else would he have them is his storage area, right? So now he had a friend who was probably wondering what had come over his usually very in control Sentinel. And suffering needlessly because of him. He had said some very hurtful things to Sandburg, the worst being the implication that he couldn't trust him. Nothing could be further from the truth. He trusted Blair with everything, he had to, Blair held his very sanity in his hands. But would Blair still trust him? He actually thought he was going to hit him. The mental picture of Blair with his hands raised for protection from him tore at him. He had also indicated that he wanted Sandburg to leave but what if, after this, that was now what Blair wanted? Could he blame him? Could he ever hope to convince his friend that it really wasn't him he'd been angry at but at a long buried memory of the pain of a small child watching his mother walk away during what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year? He had to try. For both their sakes.

Blair looked around the living room. Carrying all those boxes up had almost been fun, wondering what was in them, imagining the look on Jim's face when he saw that everything had already been done. That was definitely a look he'd never forget. Shaking his head to rid himself of that image he concentrated on the task at hand. Now taking all the boxes back down again was just going to be a chore. Sighing he picked up one of the still unopened boxes, might as well put these back first. Then take the tree down and pack all that away again. He headed out of the loft and towards the elevator, stopping and staring in disbelief at the sign on the door. It was working when he brought everything up. Could things possibly get any worse? It would take him forever to carry each box down the four flights to the storage area in the sub-basement. What if he wasn't finished before Jim got back? Spurred on by that thought he hurried to the stairwell. In a hurry to get downstairs Blair forgot about the lose board at the top of the stairs. At the same time he felt his foot go out from under him he realized he had no free hand to try to catch himself. He lost his grip on the box as he fell, both he and the box tumbling to the landing at the bottom.

Blair slowly opened his eyes becoming aware of two things simultaneously, one—he was lying on his back and he hurt all over and two—the Christmas box had opened and dumped some of its contents onto the floor. His first concern was for the objects spread out beside him. Carefully turning his head he tried to take inventory of what he could see. Please don't let anything be broken. Two red and white stockings, a large red and green piece of material—table cloth maybe?—a few candles, some plastic fruit, a large nutcracker still in his box, a wooden bowl, a plastic holly garland. That was all he could see and nothing looked damaged. He breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently this stuff was very important to Jim. Obviously more important than I am. Stop. Don't go there right now.

Okay time to inventory himself. Head hurts. Figures. Vision's all right. Still, possible concussion. That would be problem number one He moved his left arm. No problem. Right arm. Ahh! Shooting pain up the arm. Problem number two found. Deep breath. Oh Boy. Possible bruised or cracked ribs. Don't think any are broken. That's number three. Right leg, sore but okay. Left foot is lying on the step, leg turned kinda funny. Knee hurts. That would be number four for those of you still keeping score. Final results ladies and gentlemen, stairs four—Sandburg screwed. You are not going to be able to get up by yourself. Great. Just great. He shivered as a chill ran through him. God, don't they heat these stairwells? All right, let's see. The only people who would use this landing would all live on the third floor. The Meyersons are in Florida. Tony works night shift so he won't be leaving for a few hours yet and Mary Beth and Pam won't be getting home for a few hours. You know what they say, timing is everything. He shivered again. That leaves Jim. No telling when he plans on coming back and I don't think this is gonna improve his mood any. I never thought I'd say this but I don't want Jim to be the one to find me. Blair had to close his eyes at the pain of that revelation. Here he was actually afraid that the man he had thought wouldn't ever hurt him would be the one to find him in this helpless situation. As awareness began to fade he didn't fight it.

Jim almost ran from the elevator to the loft door. The wreath was still on the door, guess he hadn't gotten to that yet. He knew before he entered the loft that Blair wasn't there. Probably down in the basement. A wave of guilt flowed over him. All the kid had wanted to do was give him a pleasant surprise and look at how he had reacted. Looking around at everything he noticed that he didn't have the same feelings of betrayal he had always associated with the decorations like as he had earlier or that he thought he would now. Somehow in light of what Blair had tried to do for him he saw them for what they were, simply objects. Just symbols of a holiday that some people celebrated and others didn't. Blair was Jewish but he still celebrated the spirit of Christmas, that's what he saw in all these 'things'. It was that spirit that he was trying to bring into the loft by decorating it. The only reason these objects could make him angry was because he let them, he had the power to choose. He could use them to remember the good times before his mother left and the few good Christmas' after she was gone. Or he could use them as he had been, a way to let his childhood hurt and anger continue to fester until, like today, he would take the joy of the holiday away from everyone he touched. It was no wonder that he never got invited to any Christmas parties, he wouldn't invite someone with his attitude either. He picked up the snow globe remembering the stories his mother made up about the village and the people in it. There were some memories he did want to keep. It felt like a tight band that been constricting around his heart sudden loosened, replaced with a strange, new feeling of peace and contentment. It wasn't total, he still had a lot of childhood issues to work out, but it was a start. He put the globe back and looked at the tree. Blair had done a really good job. Somewhere he and his mother must have stayed with people who celebrated Christmas for him to be that good at decorating a tree.

So, where was he? It didn't take that long to go to the basement and back. Wait till he found out that he now had to bring back up whatever he had already taken down. Maybe he should go down and help him carry some of it back up. Closing the loft door he now smiled at the soft noise the bells on the wreath made. Yeah, it could be good. As he turned towards the elevator he saw the sign still on the door. Damn, he forgot to take it off. If Blair saw it he would think it was real and would start taking the boxes down the stairs. Another wave of guilt washed over him at the thought of Blair hauling boxes down four flights of stairs. Turning towards the stairs he decided to meet his partner halfway to give him the good news about the elevator and give him a hand bringing Christmas back into the loft.

Blair woke up slowly. Why was his bed so hard and why was it so cold in his room? He tried to reach for the covers only to have a blinding pain shoot through his arm. He couldn't hold back a small moan of pain. Memory came rushing back in. He was lying on the stairwell landing, hurt and cold. Waiting for someone to find him. How long had he been out? With no windows he couldn't tell how late it was now. He tried to think. Did Tony ever go in early? Maybe Mary Beth and Pam's boss would let them leave early today. Please let someone come soon. He head was pounding, his chest hurt even worse and his knee was throbbing. And of course moving his arm had done wonders for it too. Someone. Anyone. Well, anyone but Jim. He knew he was worse now than when he first fell, he was no shape to face Jim's wrath about not getting all the decorations out of the loft. How could a day that started out so good end up so miserable? Hearing a noise he prayed it was Tony. Looking up the stairs he found himself looking into the face of his recently enraged, Ranger trained, cop roommate. Oh God.

As Jim headed for the stairs something seemed wrong. He could hear Blair's heartbeat but it wasn't moving, it was staying in one place and it was too slow for him to be climbing stairs. Just as he reached the doorway he heard Blair moan. Rushing to the top of the stairs he looked down at the sight of Blair sprawled at the foot of the stairs, an overturned Christmas box beside him. Blood had dried from a gash across his forehead and he had a large bruise under one cheek. From the angle his leg lay it looked like he had twisted his knee. There was no telling what injuries he couldn't see. As he watched Blair turned his head and looked at him his eyes widening in fear as his heart started pounding. As he started down the stairs he could see the color drain from Blair's face. Kneeling down beside his shaking friend he tried to evaluate the extent of his injuries. "Is anything broken?"

Blair tried to look past Jim at the objects scattered on the floor. "I-I don't... know..."

"Does anything feel broken?"

"Can't tell... C-can't reach anything." He looked back at Jim. "I'm... sorry." His voice was getting weaker. "I'll... pay for... any... broken..." With a soft sigh his head fell to the side as his eyes closed.

"Sandburg? Blair?" He was out cold. Realizing that he still had his jacket on Jim pulled out his cell phone and called 911 giving the operator as much information as he could. Sitting down he did a brief physical exam on his partner, not willing to move him for fear of a spinal injury. He had moved his head without any obvious distress so that much looked good. But the look in Blair's eyes when he saw who was at the top of the stairs and the fact that he thought his first concern was if anything from the box was broken weighed heavily on him. Sighing he righted the box and began to put everything back into it. It was a small space and the EMTs would need a clear area to work in.

Once the EMS crew arrived they wasted no time putting a cervical collar on Blair and securing him to a backboard. The fact that he had been conscious and talking earlier told them that his airway wasn't obstructed so they decided to forgo using an oral airway on the chance that he might regain consciousness at any time and gag on it. They would put him on oxygen once he was on the stretcher. Jim watched as they carefully carried him up the stairs to the waiting stretcher at the top. He told the crew he would follow them in. When they had cleared the stairs he picked up the now battered box and carried it upstairs and back to the loft. Putting it inside with the others he locked the door and left for the hospital.

Jim looked over at the passenger seat of the SUV. Blair was curled up with his head resting on the window. With everything that had happened since he returned to the empty loft he hadn't had a chance to talk to or even try to apologize to Blair about his earlier behavior. Hopefully when they got home he could at least try to explain what was going on in his head at that time. The last few hours had not been easy for either of them but especially for his totally worn out partner. The head wound didn't require stitches but was sporting two new butterfly bandages. Between the gash and the bruising around it it was going to be pretty spectacular looking soon. The ribs were just bruised but it was still going to make deep breaths and moving around painful for a while. The cracked right wrist was in a cast. The twisted left knee was wrapped and Blair had a cane to use to keep most his weight off of it while it healed. Nothing majorly serious but enough to warrant the prescription for painkillers which the doctor had assured Blair he would want once the shot he gave him wore off. As Jim pulled up to the drugstore he debated waking Blair but decided that at this hour it shouldn't take long to get the prescription filled. He was right and was soon back in the vehicle with his large brown paper bag. Blair never moved.

Blair slowly made his way from the doorway to the couch with Jim right behind him. He carefully sat down and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. He wasn't hurting too bad anywhere right now thanks to the shot they gave him in the ER, even though he could feel its effects already starting to wear off, but he was so tired. He became aware that Jim was talking to him.

"... tea or anything?"

He just shook his head. Figuring that his fall would give him a slight reprieve on having to leave, even Jim wouldn't kick him out like this, he still might as well start getting used to the idea. And try to stay on Jim's good side while he was still living here. Jim was talking again.

"... left your prescription in the truck. I'll be right back, don't try to do anything on your own until then, okay?"

He forced his head up and opened his eyes. "No problem." Watching Jim leave he looked around and remembered what he had to do.

When Jim opened the loft door the bag fell from his hand as he watched the scene in front of him. There was Blair standing in front of the Christmas tree, leaning heavily on his cane, reaching up with his trembling, just cast wrist and carefully removing an ornament from the tree. Then he slowly made his way over to an open box, placed the ornament inside and then just as slowly headed back to the tree again. From where he was standing he could see that in the time he was gone Blair had only managed to remove three ornaments. That effort was enough to leave him shaking and pale but he seemed determined to keep going. Jim found himself uncharacteristically fighting back tears as he crossed the room and standing beside Blair slowly lowered the injured hand just he was reaching for another ornament. "It's all right, Chief. You don't have to do that."

"But you said..."

"Never mind what I said. Come over here and sit before you fall down."

By supporting most of Blair's weight he finally got him settled back on the couch and propped up the injured leg on the coffee table. "How about that tea now? Or are you hungry? I can fix something up pretty quick."

"Uh, tea would be fine, if you don't mind."

A few minutes later Blair was sitting with a hot mug of his favorite tea. "Thanks Jim. This is real nice."

"If you're okay for now I'm going to go upstairs and change and then call Simon to let him know I need the next few days off."

Blair looked up from his mug. "No Jim. I'll be all right. You don't have to do that. Besides, what about Becker? You can't just stop now."

"We caught Becker this morning." Was that just this morning? It seemed like days ago now. "It won't be a problem and I'm not leaving you alone until I'm convinced you can get around on your own. Simon'll understand. He's always telling me I have too many unused days accrued anyway. You just sit and drink your tea, if you need anything just say so. I'll help you into bed when I come back down." He held up his hand to stop the protests. "No arguments."

At Blair's nod he turned and headed up the stairs.

Blair watched him go for a few seconds then turned and watched the lights twinkling on the tree before looking over the boxes still scattered across the floor. Despite how nice Jim was being to him now he couldn't help but recall what he had said earlier today. He had to wonder if Jim was taking a few days off because he really wanted to help or was it really because, even hurt and barely able to get around, Jim didn't trust him to be here by himself. Blair lowered his head. Jim not trusting him was like a twisting knife in his gut. But if that's how he really felt then it was for the best that he leave as soon as he could. Neither one of them would be comfortable living together under those conditions. Besides if Jim no longer had faith in him or what they were doing then it was all over anyway. Blair's head jerked up. Faith! Oh no. How could he have forgotten?

Grabbing his cane Blair slowly eased his leg down and pulled himself up and off the couch. He had to stand still for a minute with his eyes closed before he felt ready to start moving. Slowly, carefully he made his way around to the table holding his menorah. Hanging his cane on the edge of the table while trying to keep most of his weight on his good leg made him off balance but at least it gave him the use of his good hand. He finally managed to pick up and put tonight's candles in their holders. Lighting the match though proved to be impossible. Between being off balance, shaking with fatigue and having his right hand in a cast he found he couldn't strike it hard enough to light or he ended up breaking it altogether. Every try made his ribs hurt. Several tries later all he had was a small pile of broken, unlit matches. He was just about to throw the box back onto the table in frustration when two arms came around him from behind and gently took the matches from his hands. "Let me help."

Keeping his arms around Blair Jim lit the match and held the flame to the Shamash, the middle candle. When it was lit he shook out the match and removed the candle placing it in Blair's trembling hand. He then very lightly held the bottom of Blair's hand, just enough to lend support, but not actually guiding it. He kept his hand under Blair's as he lit the newest candle first then the other two while at the same time he began reciting the ancient blessings, setting the Shamash back in its own holder. Leaning back into Jim's willing support Blair continued the prayers in a voice so soft Jim was sure only a sentinel, or God, could hear it but he was sure that it was more than loud enough. He knew, too, that by now he was the only thing keeping Blair upright, he could feel him shaking in his arms, but he would continue to hold his friend up for as long as he needed him to. After a few minutes Blair ended the blessings but just stood quietly watching the flames as the small candles burned down. Eventually he leaned his head back on Jim's chest and closed his eyes. Jim bent his head down to Blair's ear. "Finished?" At the answering small nod he picked up the cane and half carried his exhausted roommate to his room.

After sitting Blair on the edge of the bed with his wrapped leg out straight he stepped back. "Think you can start getting undressed? I'll be right back."

"Sure." He didn't sound any more alert than he looked.

"Uh-huh. How about just try to stay upright?" Seeing that Blair looked fairly steady he walked out of the room.

Once he found the bag containing Blair's prescription in the living room where he had dropped it Jim went into the kitchen and filled a glass with water. He then carried both back to Blair's room.

Blair was sitting just where he had left him. He managed to undo the top two buttons of his flannel shirt but anything more seemed beyond his limited capabilities. Jim could see fine lines of pain around the tired eyes and mouth. Trust Blair not to tell him he was hurting again. Putting the bag and glass on the nightstand he knelt in front of his friend and starting untying his sneakers. "Let's get you undressed and into bed before you keel over." Sneakers off he reached up and finished unbuttoning the flannel shirt. It had just been left hanging loose when he had gotten dressed at the ER. He got the uninjured arm free first. The nurse had to cut the other sleeve to make it fit over the cast and then managed to fasten the cuff with a large safety pin. Jim unfastened the safety pin and slid the sleeve off. He decided to leave the tee shirt on. He'd wait until Blair was lying down to take his jeans off.

Reaching over he snagged the large brown bag from the nightstand and pulled out the smaller white Pharmacy bag. From that he took out the small vial of pills and after reading the directions shook out two. Picking up Blair's hand he put them into his palm. That finally seemed to get his attention.

"Pills? No Jim, I don't need these."

"Liar. I can see you're hurting right now. Now take these so we can both get a good night's sleep."

Oh. Right. Jim won't be able to sleep if he keeps hearing me tossing and turning all night. These things usually knock me out for a while. Makes sense. Without another word he took the pills washing them down with the water Jim handed him.

Jim was surprised that Blair didn't argue more but chalked it up to how tired he was. Once the pills were gone he helped Blair lay down and removed his jeans thankful that Blair had decided to go baggy today so they fit over the wrapped knee. He pulled down the covers and made sure Blair was comfortable, placing one of the numerous pillows on the bed under the twisted knee to support it, then pulled the covers back up again.

"You all set? You need anything?"

"No. I'm fine." He looked up. "I, uh, just want to say thanks for helping me tonight. With the candles. I really appreciate it." He ended his words with a jaw cracking yawn. "Sorry."

Jim was relieved to see the pain lines smoothing out a little as the pills starting working. He smiled. "No problem. If you need help with anything you just let me know." It's the least I can do considering it's my fault you were hurt to begin with. "Go on to sleep now. I'll see you in the morning." Just as he turned to go he felt a tug on his wrist. He sat back down on the edge of the bed. "Something wrong?"

Blair was fighting sleep but he wanted to say this now, so Jim wouldn't feel obligated to bring it up again. "I know that I'm going to need some help for a little while but I want you to know that just as soon as I can get around better by myself I'll..." He had to swallow the too large lump in his throat before he could continue, "... I'll start looking for a new place. I won't be in your way any longer than I have to." Blair dropped his eyes, not wanting Jim to see how much just saying that hurt him.

Silence followed Blair's words as both men fought to control their emotions. Jim was finally able to speak.

"Blair. Blair, open your eyes please and look at me." When he had his friend's attention, torn by the pain he saw there, he continued. "You're not moving out. Not now and hopefully not for a long, long time. I said some stupid and hurtful things to you today and I just want you to know that I didn't mean any of it. There are some things I'd like to explain to you but not now, tomorrow, when you're more awake. Just remember that yes, I was angry earlier but not really at you. You just happened to be the one in the line of fire when I finally let it all out." At Blair's confused look he just patted his shoulder. "Tomorrow Chief, tomorrow. Sleep now."

"Don'... havta... leave?" Blair was fast losing the battle with sleep.

"No, you don't. If fact tomorrow we're going to finish decorating. I even bought..." Grabbing the brown bag again he reached in and pulled out two green boxes with cellophane fronts and held them up.

"You bought... candy canes?" Despite how sleepy he was getting his eyes grew wider.

"That's right, Darwin." His voice grew softer. "My mom always said that a tree's not finished until you put on the candy canes." Even though they never used them again after she left. "So tomorrow we finish the tree and the loft. Well, you'll sit on the couch and dictate while I do all the work. Enjoy it now though, cause it'll never happen again."

Blair's head was deeper in the pillow and his eyes refused to remain open any longer. "You... bought... candy canes. For your Christ... mas... tree." The deep breathing signaled the end to any more conversation.

Jim pulled the covers up a little higher and gently brushed a stay hair off his sleeping friend's face. "No Chief. I bought candy canes for 'our' Christmas tree. Thanks for once again showing me the way." On a sudden impulse he leaned down and softly touched his lips to Blair's brow. "I think Christmas came a few months early for me this year." He looked upwards and whispered "Thank You."

He quietly left the room and stood in front of the still twinkling Christmas tree. One by one he picked up the three ornaments that Blair had removed and rehung them exactly where they had been before. He knew there were more ornaments in another box as well as other decorations. Tomorrow he would let Blair be totally in charge of where everything would go. As he looked around his eyes fell on Blair's small menorah, the candles now totally burned down. Next year Blair would have a bigger menorah and they would do whatever else Jewish people did for Chanukah, Blair would teach him, just as he'd been teaching him since they met. Almost reluctantly he unplugged the tree lights as he shut down the loft for the night. As he passed by the curtains hanging in the doorway to Blair's room he listened, rewarded with the sound of strong, steady breathing. Touching the fabric in front of him he had a sudden thought. This room needs doors. I wonder what Home Depot has?

With thoughts of permanent doors for the room's new permanent resident Jim headed upstairs for his own night of untroubled sleep.

~ End ~

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Page last updated 8/15/03.