Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Holiday stories

Summary: An everyday-life Christmas story with a flu-stricken sentinel and long-suffering guide.

For long-suffering Becky who deserves a story, Vision who likes Jim-angst, and my other wonderful friends.

Not For Long
by Robyn
December 1999

"Cut it out, Jim."

"Hmm?" I mumble from behind my newspaper as innocently as possible.

"I said, cut it out." His voice sounds very well-controlled - low, calming, yet very firm. Ick. It's his teacher voice, I realize. "Eat the popcorn in the bowl," he instructs patiently.

Eat the popcorn in the bowl, I say to myself, moving my frowning mouth while silently imitating him in an incredibly juvenile manner. Good thing he can't see me behind the paper.

The obstinate streak in my personality rears its ugly head and I choose to ignore The Voice. Instead, I rebelliously focus on enjoying my senses the way Sandburg taught me -- by pawing around semi-noisily in the heavy green Pyrex bowl on my lap, moving the butter-laced popcorn into haphazard heaps in order to release their melted golden aroma before shoving a handful into my mouth. Then I close my eyes, listening to friendly sparking in the wood stove, soaking up the warmth that floats around the loft living room, inhaling the rich Christmasy pine scent from the tree, wiggling my toes inside a pair of fairly new soft white terry-lined tube socks... Ahhh. I listen again, and hear nothing but the pitter-patter of rain drops on the roof interposed on the steady beat of Blair's heart from the other end of the couch. My smile turns into a little bit of a smirk when I realize that The Voice has not spoken again.

It worked.

I turn my attention back to the paper, but I've already been through the sports section and nothing else really interests me. Against my better judgment, my vision drifts back down to the Pyrex bowl. The temptation is too great. With all the delicacy and stealth of my covert ops days, I reach for the end of the popcorn string which rests so invitingly among the loose kernels. Blair won't miss just one more... Slowly, carefully, I begin to remove the piece of popcorn from the end of the -

<crash-crumple!>

In one horrifying moment, the Cascade Tribune is mercilessly ripped away from my lap and tossed aside, exposing me like some common criminal. Professor Sandburg stands before me, his blue eyes glaring sternly from behind his wire-rimmed glasses, a long string of creamy white popcorn hanging from one hand with an old needle on the end, the kernels contrasting against his forest-green plaid shirt and black jeans.

I wait helplessly for the tirade I know I deserve for continuing to pick off and eat the popcorn from the other end of his chain which will obviously never be long enough to hang on the tree and why can't I just eat the nice buttered popcorn he made for me in the bowl and doesn't that taste better than the dry unsalted stuff he's using and he's asked me politely to please "cut it out" approximately ten times already...

All I can do is stare back up at him.

Instead, his expression changes and he bursts into laughter. Loud, boisterous laughter while pointing at me with one hand, doubled over with the other, bouncing up and down, mumbling something about how he's never seen me look so guilty. "Oh mannn!" he chokes. "That look on your face - oh man, mwahahahahaha - you're still holding the string up in the air - mwahahahahahaha!!!!" he chortles. "I need a camera! Wanted: Jim Ellison, popcorn thief..."

I frown and immediately drop the string back in the bowl. Picking up the nearest couch cushion, I hurl it in his direction.

"Missed me! Mwahahahaha..."

Not for long, Chief...

******************

What am I doing here? I ask myself deliriously.

The wooden slats of the bench are incredibly uncomfortable against my legs and back, but it's the nearest place I could find to collapse in the midst of the hundreds of people, hundreds of colors, hundreds of noises, hundreds of smells whirling around me. I've always thought that only a procrastinating idiot with a death wish would be caught in the Cascade Mall the day before Christmas, but here I am.

I'm supposed to be the organized guy, the one who plans ahead and gets all his shopping done by the time Halloween decorations are going up at the stores. The one who avoids the mall at all costs, especially at this time of year. So why is it that I haven't been able to decide what to get Sandburg this year? Of all people, I know him better than anyone else. It should be easy, right? But after numerous visits to every place from hole-in-the-wall artifact shops to sophisticated museum gift shops to gourmet food markets to outdoor equipment stores, I've come up empty. The fact that I'm at the mall is a sure sign of desperation. What makes it worse is that I'm still not sure I know what I'm looking for.

A deep, hacking cough catches in my chest, and I cover my mouth with one of my sleeves. My body aches everywhere, and I feel chilled to the bone despite my thick jacket and the many bodies milling around me. This dreadful flu hasn't been helping things lately. Simon told me -- make that ordered me -- to go home early today because I looked so awful. I didn't put up much of a protest, but instead of going straight home, I headed to the mall alone, against my better judgment. A multitude (it seems) of stores later, I'm still empty-handed. My attitude is not helped by the unkind thoughts I'm starting to think toward the annoying Santa about 50 feet away who seems intent on Ho-ho-ing as loudly as possible every five minutes.

I feel light-headed, and I know my fever must be on the rise again. Helplessly, I watch as everything blurs and seems to slow down. I'm zoning. Conscious zoning. Cool. I've had more difficulty controlling my senses since I got sick this week, and it seems the sensory overload and my exhaustion have caught up with me at last. That's okay, no need to panic, I attempt to reassure myself. I'll just sit here for a little bit, get my strength up to get my senses under control again...

Wait. Someone's calling my name.

Jim. Jim.

A hand rests gently on my shoulder and another cool one brushes my forehead.

"You're burning up! C'mon, Jim. Come back. You can do it."

I focus on his voice, following it through the maze of sensory chaos until it leads me back to a place where the blur distills into a clearer, more assaulting din. I'm loathe to face it, but it's also the place where Blair waits for me, and that's all that matters.

"I looked all over for you!" he chides softly as he puts his hand on my back and helps me to my feet. "Simon told me he sent you home two hours ago."

"He did," I admit.

Blair chuckles and negotiates a path through the crowds for us. "Hate to break it to you, man, but I am NOT moving out of the loft into this place. Too many chicks here - I'd never get enough studying done to get my Ph.D."

Strange how he doesn't ask me what I was doing at the mall. I attempt to explain. "Chief, I didn't get --"

"What you need is a couple aspirin and a bed, and I'm not talking about one in a display case," he interrupts.

I nod. He knows.

"Let's go home, Jim," he says, and his hand, gives me a small squeeze on the arm as we make our way to the parking lot.

I feel awful, but thanks to you, Chief -- it's not for long.

******************

"Thanbur--"

"No talking, Jim."

"Whath!?"

"You're going to mess up the thermometer reading, that's whath," retorts the anthropologist from the kitchen as he pours hot water from the tea kettle, his voice laced with amusement. "If you don't behave yourself, I know where to find that big one," he warns.

I clamp my mouth shut in a frown, grumble loudly for his benefit and sink back down into the couch where I've been relegated, pulling up the afghan around me. For all my complaining, I do feel much better now, dressed in sweats, my gray robe, and Blair's sheepskin slippers, than I did an hour ago when Sandburg rescued me from the jaws of commercialized holiday death. The improvement in my fever and chills probably has something to do with the couple aspirin I took and the cool cloth he slapped on my forehead too, but I'd rather not admit the last part, anyway. I prefer not to have limp, clammy wet things on my face, okay? Drives me nuts.

Rolling onto my side, away from the kitchen, I look toward the balcony where our Christmas tree stands. A pathetic string of popcorn, only about three feet long, hangs around the front of the tree like a lop-sided smiley face. It looks hilarious from this angle -- from any angle, actually. Reminds me of Sandburg somehow. Not the pathetic part -- the unconventional, makes-me-feel-warm-and-laugh-hysterically-inside-all-at-the-same-time part. I do feel a small twinge of guilt knowing that the popcorn string might be four feet instead of three...

Deciding the thermometer's been in my mouth long enough for a semi-accurate reading, I remove it so I can talk without a lisp. "Can I have that cup of soup now?" I ask, shifting my sight back toward the kitchen. "I think my stomach's going to behave."

Blair pulls the container from the refrigerator and pours some into a large mug before depositing it in the microwave to heat. "Did you know you're even bossier when you're sick?" he teases. As the microwave hums, he walks over to the couch to take the thermometer from my waving hand. "100.3," he reports after squinting at the column of mercury. "Acceptable, considering the last time it was 105."

"Good. That means I can get rid of this thing too," I say as I remove the damp washcloth from my head and toss it in Blair's direction. My aim isn't very good, however, and it lands on the wood floor despite Blair's valiant attempt to catch it.

"Just for that, I should leave it there."

"Chief..."

He picks up the cloth and laughs all the way to the bathroom. What is this? Laugh At Jim Day? All I'm doing is being myself.

That couldn't possibly be the problem.

The phone rings and Blair answers it. I overhear his end of the conversation.

"Oh man, I completely forgot! I am SO sorry. In a half hour? Sure, I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

He clicks the phone off, dashes into his room, rummages around and puts a few things in a cardboard box. Then he dashes back out of the room and starts shrugging on his coat. "Jim," he says, "I've gotta drive over to the Presbyterian Church to drop these off -- I promised Rhonda that she could use a few of my oriental artifacts for the three kings in a Christmas pageant. Her daughter is one of the kings. Er, queens. Whatever. I totally forgot it was tonight. I'll be right back."

I nod. "Drive safely."

"I will," he answers. He flashes me one of his "I'd tell you not to worry but it never works" smiles, then he is gone.

Slowly, I shuffle over to the microwave and retrieve my steaming mug of soup. Stirring it with a spoon, I walk back over into the living room, reaching down to straighten the stack of anthropology journals on the coffee table before sitting back down on the couch. The hot soup tastes very good and I savor each sip. I wonder how I should bide my time while waiting for my friend to return. It will probably be about a half-hour before Blair gets back, especially if he drives as safely as I want him to. Right now I'm just too lazy to haul myself up the stairs and go to bed. It's Christmas Eve and I'm sick -- I'm allowed to be lazy, right?

My eyes pass over the living area once again, taking the time to notice and feel how homey everything looks. Even the eccentric Christmas tree with its blinking red and green chili pepper lights and neurotic smile fits right in. A thought occurs to me, and suddenly I know what I'm going to do while I'm waiting.

******************

A slight motion nudges me gently from my dreamless sleep as I feel something being lifted softly from my lap. I struggle to shake off the feeling of disorientation, and my eyes blink open sleepily. The living room is darker now, with only the Christmas tree lights and the light from Blair's bedroom illuminating the loft.

A figure with long curly hair moves about the room in his green plaid bathrobe, the belt tails trailing on the ground behind him. My eyes adjust easily to the dark, and I shift to a sitting position to watch as Blair takes the popcorn string I've made -- about the same length as the one already hanging on the tree. He ties the two ends together before draping the new longer string around the tree. After arranging it to his satisfaction, he turns and grins when he sees me watching him. Blair crosses the room and plops down on the couch beside me, pulling the afghan across both our laps.

"Pretty good for a popcorn thief," he says, elbowing me in the ribs. I can tell his tone of voice is pleased.

"First step in my rehabilitation program," I chuckle.

He chuckles too. We sit for a few moments in silence

Finally, he speaks. "Jim, about Christmas presents--"

"I--"

"I didn't get you one either," he finishes before I can interject.

"You didn't?"

"Well, not the wrapped kind. I thought this year we could put some money together and get something for both of us." He reaches over to the stack of anthropology journals and pulls something out from the middle. "Here," he says, handing it to me.

"A photo?" Actually, it's not just any photo. This one is the picture Simon took of Blair and me last year sitting on the steps of a cabin, grinning at each other. We're talking an isolated spot in the Canadian Rockies accessible only by plane. Plenty of time to relax, plenty of time to fish, and plenty of time to bug Simon. We had a great time.

"No, silly. A vacation. I've arranged it all with Simon. You and I get a week off next month, after Y2K. I thought we could go back to this lake. Rafe said he'd fly us up there. How does that sound?"

Like music to this sentinel's ears, that's how. "Can we leave tomorrow?"

Blair laughs. I must be beaming like a kid. "I wish, man. But we've gotta cure you of this flu first, and I promised Simon it would be after New Year's." He elbows me again, grinning. "Merry Christmas, Jim."

I elbow him back, then pull him into a warm hug of jumbled gray polartec and green-blue flannel. "Merry Christmas, Chief."

After a few moments, we lean back against the couch and just sit, enjoying the Christmas lights, soft patter of rain on the windows, and the dying warmth of the wood stove. "Don't forget I'm still ahead of you by three fish," I say softly into Blair's ear.

Blair chuckles, and leans over to whisper back in mine. "Not for long, Jim. Not for long."

~ The End ~