The Gift of Giving
AUTHOR’S NOTES: My Christmas fic for this year. Happy holidays to all.
Betaed as always by Annie. Happy birthday to Annie and our spiritual triplet, Mel, who shares our birthday.
In memory of our mum who passed away December 26th 2003.
“So, Sandburg,” Jim said as he pulled on his jacket and grabbed his truck keys, “I’m heading down to the mall….” He tried not to shudder at the memory of last year’s quick trip to the mall to pick up a last minute gift. In the usual Christmas work rush, he’d forgotten there was one extra person on his Christmas shopping list these days – the man slumped on his couch, currently looking as grouchy as Scrooge himself. Blair had, at least, been incredibly thrilled with Jim’s thoughtful choice of a new winter jacket, complete with matching gloves and it had almost… almost made the agonizing trip worthwhile.
The music, the heady, overpowering smells of perfume and baked goods, and the frantic stampede of shoppers had left Jim with a migraine the size of Texas and he’d vowed and declared that this year, he’d get his shopping done in June. And he had… except for the Major Crime Secret Santa, which, of course, he couldn’t do until he knew whom he’d drawn.
So desperate was he to avoid another trip into what he ominously thought of as Christmas from hell, he’d actually entertained the idea of rummaging through his things to find his own Secret Santa gift from last year – a hideous tie with little dancing Santas on it, from Brown, of course - and recycling it. He figured Brown either wouldn’t remember or else would think Jim thought the gag gift such a winner, he’d copied it himself, but he’d drawn Rhonda, and as lovely and gracious a person as she was, she just wasn’t the tie type, dancing Santas or not. Besides, he’d felt positively ashamed the moment he’d thought of it. Rhonda put up with a lot of crap from all of them when times were tense and handled it all like a trooper. She deserved something especially nice at Christmas… except he had no idea what to get.
He looked over at Blair, who sat with an expectant look on his face.
Blair waved a hand in the air, looking decidedly impatient. “You said you were going to the mall. Seemed to me you had something to add to that piece of information.”
“Oh. Right. Wanna come?”
Blair slumped back on the couch and stared at the television screen. “Not especially.”
“I thought you loved Christmas shopping.”
Jim pulled out the big guns. “I’ll spring for dinner.” He was sure he saw a glimmer of interest in Blair’s eyes. “Anything you want,” he added generously.
Blair sighed and stood, looking less than eager. “Yeah, okay.”
As much as he was dreading the onslaught of Christmas cheer at the mall, Jim didn’t think he could handle the oppressive silence in the truck any longer. “Finished your Christmas shopping?” he asked.
“Only one day left,” Jim replied. He reached out and turned on the radio in the hope of instilling some Christmas cheer of his own then turned down the raucous chorus of Jingle Bells to a dull roar. He liked Christmas, really, but a Sentinel could only endure so much cheeriness before that Texas-sized headache would be back. “If you need to get anything else, you can get it tonight.”
“Won’t be a problem,” Blair said softly.
“Need a loan?” Jim knew Blair perennially skated on the edge of bankruptcy, due to his student loans and the fact he earned a pittance for his teaching jobs. The fact that the department wasn’t able to give him a wage despite all that he did to help Jim had been a sore point for a while but Blair was simply an observer as far as the brass knew. They couldn’t risk anyone knowing just how much help Sandburg gave or that he was as close to a cop as any of the detectives pulling a wage.
That did it. Jim pulled the truck into the nearest parking space. They’d have to walk a way in the snow to get to the mall but enough was enough. This was not the Blair Sandburg he knew. Blair may have been raised in the Jewish faith but as an anthropologist, he’d embraced many religions, firmly believing that each one had something to offer, something to teach. And Blair loved Christmas. Every jolly ho-ho, hangover inducing, give till you drop, moment of it. He’d been the one to get the tree the Christmas before, dragged the boxes of decorations out of the basement, had spent hours mulling over what to buy Simon, his pick for the Secret Santa. His choice of tickets to the local video game parlor for Simon and Daryl had initially caused a frown from the captain but had been an overwhelming success. Blair had a knack of seeing people for who they were, and he never seemed to get it wrong, unless you counted his dubious choice of girlfriends, though Jim had to admit he’d been on par in that department himself lately.
Jim turned in his seat and put a hand on Blair’s arm, waylaying his exit from the truck. “What’s up?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Blair replied. “I’m just tired.”
“Blair… Talk to me.”
Blair sat back in his seat and sighed. “It’s stupid,” he said finally.
“Well, I won’t know if it is until you tell me,” Jim replied reasonably.
Blair glanced at him quickly and Jim was sure he saw the glint of unshed tears in his eyes. “Naomi’s not coming for Christmas.”
Jim had a moment’s relief that he could at least spend this Christmas not sneezing himself silly from sage wafting through the apartment but the sadness on Sandburg’s face had his face heating with embarrassment at such an uncharitable thought. “I’m sorry,” he said, genuinely upset at Blair’s disappointment. “Did she say why?”
Blair shrugged. “Change of plans. She wants to stay and celebrate Christmas with Noah and his wife. They just had a new baby.” He reached out and opened the door before Jim could say anything more, sliding out of the seat and standing, stomping his feet on the ground, his arms wrapped around his chest. “We going or what?”
“Going.” Jim got out of the truck, locked the doors and chased after Blair who was striding toward the mall’s entrance as though the hounds of hell were after him.
“Where do you want to go?” Blair asked as they stepped inside the mall. “Who are you buying for?”
“Rhonda.” Jim rubbed a hand through his hair. “Actually, that’s why I’m glad you came. I have no idea what to get her. Who’d you get anyway?”
“Brown,” Blair said. “I got him a gag gift. He loves that stuff. It’s a tie with little candy canes that light up.” He smiled and Jim felt a small measure of relief at that.
“You stole Brown’s own idea from last year?” Jim admonished.
Blair frowned then nodded. “I’d forgotten about that awful tie he got you. Well, you know what they say, turn about is fair play.”
“Problem is, he’ll love it.” Jim rubbed his hands together. “So, Rhonda. Where do we start? Perfume?”
Blair shook his head. “Nah, Rhonda wears a very expensive perfume. Way over the Secret Santa budget.” He looked thoughtful. “I have an idea. You want to grab a coffee?”
Jim almost groaned. He didn’t want coffee, he just wanted out of here in the shortest time possible. “Why not,” he forced out.
Blair swirled the foam on his cappuccino with his teaspoon. “Rhonda and I were talking a few months ago,” he began. “She was really upset when she came into work and I took her to Starbucks in her break.”
“Rhonda’s a married woman, Chief,” Jim said with a smile.
“Very happily married,” Blair replied. “Her mom died just before Christmas last year—“
“I remember,” Jim broke in. “We sent flowers. Simon went to the funeral. I couldn’t make it, I had a court appearance.”
Blair nodded. “The Reynolds case. Anyway, her mom bequeathed her a locket. Rhonda said it wasn’t expensive but it had sentimental value. It belonged to Rhonda’s grandmother and had a photo of Rhonda’s mom and dad inside. You remember that break in she had a few months ago?” Jim nodded. “Her locket got stolen. She said she didn’t care about the television or even the damage that the thieves caused, but that locket meant everything to her.”
“I never knew,” Jim said.
Blair shrugged. “She didn’t want people feeling sorry for her.”
“Thing is, Chief, the Secret Santa has a dollar limit, and for Rhonda, I don’t mind going over that by a heap, but it kind of ruins the whole idea, doesn’t it, if I buy Rhonda an expensive locket?”
Blair shook his head, a spark of enthusiasm returning to his eyes, and there and then, Jim would have gladly shelled out a thousand bucks on Rhonda’s present just to keep it there. “She said it wasn’t expensive, and my gift for Henri only cost 5 bucks,” he had the grace to look slightly chagrined, “he’ll love it,” and Jim wasn’t entirely sure who Blair was trying to convince. “Anyway, I’d be happy to donate my remaining $15.”
Jim thought about it. The idea was appealing. Anything to put a smile on Blair’s face… and it would solve his dilemma, and Rhonda definitely deserved it. He shook his head and smiled.
“What?” Blair nudged his arm.
“Only you, Sandburg.”
“Only me what?” Blair looked positively affronted. “Look, it was only a suggestion, man.” He pushed back his chair and stood. “Why don’t you just buy her some perfume?”
Jim reached out and grabbed Blair’s arm before he could take off. “Your idea is a great idea, Chief. Problem is, where do we find this locket and how do we make sure it’s as close as possible to the one Rhonda lost.”
Blair’s resistance was gone in a heartbeat. “She described it to me in loving detail, Jim,” he said, sitting back down, “and isn’t this a great way to put those sentinel senses of yours to good use, to make sure we get exactly the right locket?”
Jim sank down onto the couch with a groan and rubbed his stomach. “I hope you don’t have anything planned for dinner, Chief. The Christmas lunch at the PD filled me up.”
Blair sat down beside him with an answering groan. “Me too. Nothing for either of us till tomorrow. I’m beginning to wonder whether we should beg off eating at all Christmas Day as well.”
“I don’t know,” Jim said. “All that cooking and baking you did. Can’t have it go to waste.”
“There is that,” Blair agreed with a smile. “Thanks, Jim.”
“For what?” Jim asked. “I haven’t given you your Christmas present yet.”
“For making me realize that Christmas is what you make of it, no matter who you spend it with.”
“Which reminds me, Darwin,” Jim replied, “just where did you get those photos of Rhonda’s folks to put in her locket.”
Blair looked positively… almost… shame-faced. “I asked her for copies. Told her I knew this friend who did incredible restorations and I could get them framed for her.”
“Which you did.”
“Which I did,” Blair agreed. “Hey, that was a personal gift from me to a lovely lady friend. Nothing to do with the Secret Santa, and it allowed me to get the photos downsized properly to put in the locket.”
Jim shook his head. “You’re a piece of work, Sandburg.” He shook an admonishing finger in Blair’s face. “Remember Rhonda’s married, that’s all I ask.”
Blair pasted an almost self-righteous look on his face. “She’s a friend!” he protested. “Besides,” he added with a small grin, “she’s almost old enough to be my mom.”
Jim nudged Blair in the ribs. “I’m gonna tell her you said that, Sandburg.” He paused when he heard footsteps approaching the apartment. “Looks like your extra Christmas present arrived early, Chief.” He stood and headed for the door.
Jim shook his head and held a finger to his lips then smiled. “Merry Christmas, Chief.” He opened the door. “Naomi! Glad you could make it!”