My third annual helping of Holiday Fluff. You have been warned. :-)
Hope you enjoy!
SANTA'S HELPER 3:
Jim, who had a decent stride going despite the Christmas Eve-crazed crowd in the mall, stopped patiently as the wobbling toddler grabbed his leg for balance. A second later, a harried mother swept the child up into her arms and gave the tall man a weary, but thankful smile. Jim smiled back and continued on past the high school choir warbling in center court, and the flashes of light as kids alternately screamed and laughed on Santa's lap. He tried to walk past the tantalizing smells of the Cinnabon store, but he found his nose dragging him toward the teen at the register, and his mouth opening to make an order. Upper body - 1, lower body - 0, he thought with a happy shrug, as he waited for his cinnamon roll-filled box.
He hummed along with the Christmas carols pouring from the speakers, gave the cashier a hearty, "Merry Christmas", as he adjusted the bag he already had, and got a firm grasp on the new, heavenly-scented box. People walking past him automatically smiled, his dancing blue eyes a balm amidst the scowls of adults who couldn't find the right gift, and the pouts of teens who had either run out of allowance money or didn't want to be seen shopping with their parents. Jim felt sorry for them, remembering when he couldn't stand being in a mall at this particular time of the year. But now, he was a trained Sentinel: he adjusted the music and noises to acceptable levels, and his extraordinary sight, combined with his height, led him around potential "traffic" jams. Yep. Life was good.
Then, disaster struck. He took a shortcut through the department store. He zigged to avoid a man laden with boxes up to his nose. At the same time, the perfume lady, carefully aiming at the wrist of a little old lady in a wool suit and white Nikes, was jostled by a couple of kids playing tag. The atomizer aimed up and out, perfume hitting Jim squarely in his face. Jim's last thought as he sank to the floor was that he hoped no one squashed his cinnamon buns.
He awakened to antiseptic smells and groaned. He knew the smell, and loathed it. Eau de Cascade General. "But I was being a good boy," he whispered mournfully.
"Hang in there, partner. You're gonna be fine."
He forced his eyes open and saw a blurry Blair. "You look like an upclose version of an impressionistic painting. Blurry Blair, Blurry Blair, Blur Bair." He laughed. "Guess I can't say it three times."
Blair laughed, too. It was obvious Jim was feeling no pain. "Do you remember what happened, Jim?"
"The perfume lady committed assault on a police officer. Book 'er, Danno. The kids, too. Co-conspirators all," he declared. Then his hands patted the bed. "Where are my buns?"
"Your what?" Blair asked, with a grin.
"My buns. Nobody crushed my buns, did they?"
Blair snickered. He couldn't help himself-- really. "Uh, your buns are behind you like they usually are, and although I haven't checked, they might be a little bruised, but I doubt if they're crushed."
Thanks to a thorough washing by the ER staff, bright red eyes glared at him. "Not those buns! My Cinnabon buns," Jim whined. "I wanted those buns, Chief. I really did."
A hand patted his comfortingly. "It's okay, man. I'll get you more buns, I promise. Now, you're supposed to rest, and then they're going to move you to a room. I'm sorry, Jim, but you're going to be in the hospital for Christmas."
"'Kay. Not the first time. The first time I was eight. Anna ran out into the street."
"Seven-years old. Hair the color of carrots."
"Don't tell me you were chasing redheads even that far back, man," Blair commented, rolling his eyes.
Jim ignored him, lost in his memories. "Heard the car coming. She didn't. None of the others did. Had to get her out of the way. It broke my leg."
"Oh, Jim." Blair imagined the eight-year-old Sentinel trying to save his friend, everyone else startled by the appearance of the car.
"Dad and Stevie came to the hospital. And they were dressed in pajamas and robes too, so I wouldn't feel bad. We played all day." He smiled in remembrance.
"That's a nice memory, Jim. You just go to sleep now. Nothing to worry about, okay?"
"How y'doing, man?"
Jim smiled as his partner walked through the door, dressed in a long coat-- his long coat-- and carrying a gaily-wrapped present. "Good. My eyes are still gritty, and my throat feels like it's wearing a wool coat, but I'm doing okay. How's my reputation, though? The guys at the station through laughing at big, bad Jim Ellison being taken out by the perfume lady?" He was slightly embarrassed, but not bitter.
"No one laughed, Jim," Blair said solemnly. "Your throat became so swollen, the paramedics thought they were going to have to do a tracheotomy right there in the mall. When Simon and I arrived, they were forcing a tube into your mouth and your eyes were the size of cantaloupes. The perfume lady was in tears and the store manager was standing there, actually wringing his hands. I thought they only did that in stories."
"Oh." He hadn't really thought about the kind of panic he must have caused in the mall. "I didn't mean to ruin anyone's Christmas, especially yours, Chief." Despite his Jewish heritage, Blair enjoyed the holiday. According to him "good will toward men" should be celebrated by all.
"It's not ruined by a longshot, Jim. I figure we can exchange gifts and have our Christmas dinner when you get home."
"But everyone was coming to the loft for dinner. And you have a gift in your hand," Jim reminded him.
"No one wanted dinner without you, so it was a unanimous decision to postpone it. And this isn't a Christmas gift-- it's a get-well one. So's this." He started unbuttoning the coat.
"Hate to tell you, Chief, but the coat's already mine," Jim drawled.
"Not the coat, silly. This!" He opened the coat to reveal he was wearing pajamas.
Jim frowned, then smiled. "I told you?"
"Yep. You don't remember our conversation yesterday?"
He shook his head. "I remember you being here. That was enough." He wiggled his nose experimentally. "Simon's here...and Connor."
Jim laughed, as after greetings were shared, his two latest visitors shed coats to reveal that they, too, were in pajamas. His laughter grew as Joel, Rafe, and Brown joined the party-- Brown in a long nightshirt with matching cap. By the time he opened his gifts, to find they were suitable for an eight-year-old boy, his chest was aching and his laughs reduced to chuckles, then finally quiet chortles.
They stayed the whole day. Rafe and Brown entertained themselves with the WWF action figures and Wrestling Arena Megan had supplied. Megan herself was busy creating a masterpiece on an Etch-A-Sketch. Simon was absorbed by the Game Boy he himself had supplied, and Joel was piecing together a 3-D puzzle of the Eiffel Tower.
Jim looked at the figure sprawled across the foot of his bed, painstakingly coloring a Christmas scene with his crayons, and felt an overwhelming sense of rightness. Peace on Earth, indeed, he thought warmly. "Thanks, Chief."
Blair looked up, his eyes twinkling as they grazed over the bright yellow Pikachu slippers on Jim's feet. Who knew Rafe had a Pokemon fetish, giving Jim not only the slippers, but the matching red and white baseball cap of Ash, the Pokemon trainer. "You're welcome. Although I couldn't get your real family here--"
"You are my real family, Chief," Jim corrected. He reached over to the portable tray by his bed. "Here, have a bun."
Blair scooted up until he was sitting beside Jim, tapping his bun against his partner's as if they were sharing a toast. "To being with family at Christmas," he said softly.
"To being with family," Jim agreed.
Nurse Amelia Lockhart waved to her fellow cohorts at the nurse's station, motioning for them to join her in front of a door to one of the rooms. Julia Reynolds grinned. Wonder what the newest pediatrics ward was up to now, she thought, as she and Tony Peterson walked down the hall. It was non-written hospital policy that rules could be temporarily discarded on Christmas Day, so they hadn't complained when Room 322 had more than two visitors. They had smiled at each other when said visitors revealed they were dressed in pajamas, and they'd stolen one of the tiny trees on the pediatric floor and set it in the corner of the room when they noticed the "children" playing with their toys. Now what?
Three heads poked into the room and saw the pajama-clad group listening in awe as one of them-- Joel, Amelia thought she'd heard him called-- sat in a chair and read aloud to them from Dr. Seuss's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas".
He stared down at Who-ville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?"
"It came with out ribbons! It came without tags!"
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
The door eased closed, and the three nurses looked at each other, perhaps thinking back to the first time they'd heard the story, or maybe remembering how sometimes they, too, forgot that Christmas doesn't come from a store.... And if their smiles were a bit brighter as they went on their rounds, maybe their "Merry Christmas"'s a little more cheerful, then they were remembering the lesson taught by the pajama-wearing "family" in Room 322.
Christmas has-- and always will-- mean a little bit more.
It's Christmas! What did you expect? :-) Happy Holidays!