Just a quickie for Christmas!
SANTA'S HELPER 1:
Cascade City Diner
Jim walked into the diner and found who he was looking for in the last booth. The young man stood when he spotted the detective and held out his hand. "Thank you for meeting me on such short notice, Detective Ellison."
"Daryl." He waited until the waitress had taken his order of coffee and a donut. Then he looked at the teenage son of Captain Simon Banks and asked, "What's this about, Daryl?"
"Uh, I need your help."
"Are you in trouble, son?" he asked gently.
"Oh no, sir. Nothing like that," the kid was quick to say and Jim heaved a sigh of relief. Because if he had said yes the only thing Jim knew to do was to get on the phone and have Simon join them. "It's about... Christmas."
"Oh." That he could handle. "Trouble finding a gift?"
"No, I know what I want to give him. I'm taking photography in school and we have to do a project where we focus on one subject. I thought I would make my dad that project and it could double as a Christmas present but..."
"But?" Jim pressed when Daryl tumbled to a stop.
"But they need to be candid shots which means he shouldn't know I'm taking them. But it's not like we live together or anything. When I stay with him he knows everything I do. I can't catch him offguard and I was hoping... I mean you are Dad's friend," the teen said with an earnest look.
Jim ran the conversation rapidly through his mind and filled in the missing blanks. Thanks to a certain roommate, he was rather skilled in the art. "You were hoping I had some suggestions or maybe I could help."
Daryl relaxed. "Yeah. I mean, yes, sir."
"Basically you want to run surveillance on your dad?"
"Exactly," Daryl said eagerly. "I knew a cop would understand."
"Yeah, but Simon's a cop too. It won't be easy." The kid slumped in the seat across from him. "But I didn't say it couldn't be done."
Daryl straightened his shoulders and gave a hesitant smile. "You'll help me?"
"Sure, son. First thing we need is a plan."
"You know, Chief, I think Simon needs your help," Jim said to his roommate and partner, Blair Sandburg.
"Something wrong with the computer?" Blair asked as he graded the last of his students' exams. Not only was he a police observer who helped Jim with his cases, but he was also an anthropology grad student and a TA. Since Jim was asking in Simon's name, he figured the help didn't have anything to do with a case. However, the captain had used him on occasion when he needed computer advice.
"No. It's about Daryl's Christmas gifts. You and he get along pretty well and you know what kids his age are into. Simon's about as lost with that generation as I am. With Joan getting custody after the divorce, he doesn't spend enough time with Daryl to get to know what his son's interest really are."
"That's a big problem in modern society. The family is becoming more and more disenfranchised and the kids are suffering the most."
Jim noticed his roommate was about to launch into lecture mode so he quickly got to the point. "Simon's planning on taking tomorrow afternoon off to shop for Daryl and since you turn in your final grades tomorrow I was wondering if you wouldn't mind going with him, giving him a few tips. I mean, you and Daryl are great friends."
Blair nodded. He and Simon's son got along really well, surprising both Jim and the captain. But what the older men didn't realize was that they were the common link. Blair and Daryl understood where the other was coming from because they both had domineering, overprotective, strong men, who loved them and were loved in return. "Shopping for Daryl will be fun. Tell Simon to give me a call."
"Sure thing, Chief."
Cascade Police Department: Major Crimes Unit
"Simon, I told Sandburg about you taking the afternoon off today and he was wondering if you needed any help in picking out things Daryl would like."
The tall, dark cop looked up from his desk eagerly. "He made a list?"
"Nah, but he offered to go with you. He didn't want to ask you directly because he didn't want you to think he thought you couldn't handle shopping for your son. But I figure that Daryl's at that age where a father's choice of gifts makes a difference."
"You remember what your father gave you?"
"The same thing he gave every year--nothing. Only the weak are given gifts. The strong take what they want," he quoted.
Simon knew it was wrong to hate someone you'd never met, but every time Jim let something slip about his past... Damn, it was a miracle he'd turned out as normal as he had. "I've been wracking my brains for weeks trying to decide what to get Daryl. I mention something to him, trying to get a hint, and he just shrugs. What the hell does that mean?"
Jim shook his head sympathetically. "I couldn't tell you. But I bet Sandburg could. Why don't you give him a call at the university and see if you can get together?"
"How's his afternoon look?"
"Good. I'll check with him then. Sure you don't want to come with us, Jim?"
"Christmas shopping? At the mall? With wall-to-wall people? And babies crying because they don't want a picture taken with Santa? And let's not forget the tons of scented candles and ladies waiting to squirt you with the latest, over-priced perfume. And--"
Simon held up his hand. He'd forgotten that Jim was a Sentinel, which in his case meant he had all five senses heightened. The mall probably would be torture for him. "I get the picture, Jim. I just thought maybe you still had some gifts to buy."
"Got it done in that shopper-free zone between the end-of-summer sales and Halloween. In and out in under twenty minutes."
Simon balled up a piece of paper and tossed it at him. "Get out of my office, Mr. Practical. And Jim, thanks."
Jim grinned. "Just call me Santa's helper, captain."
Cascade High School
"I didn't know I had authorization to check you out of school," Jim said to Daryl as they walked to the truck parked in front of the main building.
"Dad put your name down. If something ever happened to him, he figured it would be you and Blair who... you know."
Yeah, he knew. It was a sad fact of life that cops had to prepare for such occurrences. "Whatever the reason, it certainly came in handy today. But your mom knows about this, right?" Daryl nodded. "Good. You got your camera ready?" Jim asked, indicating the black bag on Daryl's lap.
"It's loaded with film that doesn't need a flash and I checked out a telephoto lens from the school. But, detective, how are we going to find Dad and Blair in the mall? It's a big place and awfully crowded this time of the year."
Jim wasn't worried; he could find Blair in a full stadium, so a mall was small potatoes. If he was searching for anyone else, even his Sentinel abilities wouldn't be of much use in the confusion of the season. But Sandburg was Jim's Guide, which meant that not only did he help Jim control the enhanced senses but that the two of them were connected somehow. That was why Jim had finagled Blair into going with Simon. "Don't worry about that, son. You're not just with a cop, but a former Army ranger. We'll find our men."
Daryl just looked at him in awe.
Cascade Heights Shopping Plaza
"There they are."
Daryl followed the detective's pointing finger and saw his dad and Blair in one of the stores on the first level. He was impressed by Det. Ellison's ability to find them, but was even more impressed by the store. "The Gap? My dad is in the Gap?" he said with disbelief.
"Is that good or bad?"
Daryl groaned. "You're just as pathetic as he is, aren't you?"
"Afraid so," Jim replied with a grin. He knew the Gap was "good". He'd seen their commercials on television and hadn't understood a single second; a surefire way to tell what was cool-- or whatever word they were using this week.
Daryl took pictures as they followed the duo throughout the mall, Jim helping him stay inconspicuous. A saleslady caught them in one of the stores and Jim pulled out his badge to keep her from calling security. "Are you photographing shoplifters, detective?" the woman had asked in an exaggerated whisper.
"No, ma'am. Just unsuspecting holiday shoppers," he replied sternly and the lady's mouth had formed a perfect "O".
"Got everything you need, Daryl?" Jim asked as they walked to the parking lot with ice cream cones. Blair and Simon were already gone.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, Det. Ellison. You didn't have to do this."
Jim threw his arm around the teen's shoulder. "No, I didn't, Daryl. Friends never have to do anything; they want to."
The Loft: Christmas Day
Simon heard the noise, a mixture of music and conversation, as he exited his car. The moment he entered the building, it got louder and more distinct. Apparently one of Jim's neighbors was throwing one hell of a Christmas party. His detective was probably going to be in a real bad mood, he thought to himself as he stepped onto the elevator. But to his amazement, he discovered the noise was coming from his friends' loft.
"Come on in, Simon," Blair called as the captain poked his head through the partially opened door.
"What in the world is going on here?" Simon asked as he noted the number of people milling about the loft and the buffet of food sitting around the room. Some he recognized from the police station. Others were a complete mystery.
"Isn't it great!" Blair said excitedly, sitting out another bowl of giblet gravy. "This is my Christmas present from Jim. I was worried about the people at the university who didn't have anywhere to go for Christmas and the policemen who had to work Christmas Day so Jim set up this open house Christmas dinner thing. You better grab your plate now because shift change is coming up soon and it usually gets crowded around that time."
More crowded than this? "I'm surprised your neighbors haven't called the cops," Simon said, then wondered if they had. He'd spent the morning with Daryl, only now having dropped him off at his former in-laws, and he hadn't once called into the station; why give fate a chance to kick you in the butt?
"They probably would have if they weren't so busy stuffing their faces," Blair said, indicating one elderly lady, piling it up at the buffet. "Good thing Jim always plans big. I never would have had enough food."
"Speaking of your partner, where is Jim?"
"Just look around. I'm sure he's heard your voice by now." Something dinged. "The bread's ready to take out of the oven. Help yourself to whatever you want," Blair called as he happily bounced away to the kitchen.
Simon scanned the crowd and finally spied Jim signaling from the balcony. Poor man. His senses are probably going nuts. "Why, Jim?" he asked as he joined his friend outside. Thankfully the day was mild for late December. Simon put his packages on the patio table and shrugged out of his coat, revealing a heavy handknit sweater. "Why are you letting these people run you out of your own home?"
Jim shrugged and continued looking at the view from the balcony. Below and away was Cascade, his city. "Did you see the look in his eyes, Simon? It's worth a little aggravation."
Simon sighed. "So what happened to that Scrooge who used to work for me?"
"A bunch of elves-- no, make that one particular elf-- dragged his tail to Santa's workshop and had him made over."
"Yeah, well, I'm surprised the elf is allowing you to make such a sacrifice."
"He's been so busy, he hasn't had time to think about me," Jim said good-naturedly. "Seems I'm not the only one Santa worked on. I see you've come bearing gifts."
"Daryl asked me to drop them off. One for Sandburg, of course, and one for you." Simon was curious about that. Daryl wasn't in the habit of spending his precious cash on his dad's friends.
"Great kid you got there, Simon," Jim said, smiling mysteriously as he caught scent of Simon's curiosity. "So what's in the third package?"
Simon grinned and opened it. Inside was a leather triptych-like album. "I wanted to show you how talented my boy is. Look at these pictures he took of me." Each of the three pages had five or six cutouts bearing a photo of Simon. No two facial expressions were alike and each said something about the essence of the man. "Is that a nice tribute or what?" Jim nodded. Daryl had done an excellent job.
"Let me see, Simon," Blair said as he came through the door with two full plates. "Here, captain, hope you enjoy. Jim, take this. You haven't eaten anything since this morning. And once you've gotten something in your stomach, here are a couple of aspirin to help you with that headache."
Jim smiled sheepishly. He should have known Blair, despite doing a hundred things at one time, hadn't forgotten him. "A little fresh air and I'll be good for another four or five hours," he said gamely.
"Yeah, right. I know I owe you, big guy." He looked at the album Simon had exchanged for the food. "Wow. Daryl took these? They are so you, man. Look at this one. I had to be somewhere nearby because that look literally screams, 'Sandburg!'"
Simon shrugged. "I don't know if you were around or not. Somehow Daryl took all of these without my knowledge. I think I have a genius for a son. His teacher told him to bring the photos back after Christmas because she wants to enter them into a city-wide contest for amateur photographers," he said proudly.
"That's wonderful, Simon. I'll have to take him out to celebrate or something," Blair mused.
"Oh, yeah. Before I forget, he sent you a present."
Blair ripped open the small, nearly square package. "The CD I wanted! I can't wait to listen to it." He glanced quickly at Jim. "In two or three weeks," he amended hastily.
Jim just smiled and ate.
The Loft: Jim's Bedroom
Jim basked in the silence. The guests were gone. He'd helped Blair clean up and now his partner was knocked out in bed, tired but extremely satisfied.
With careful movements, he picked up the package Daryl had sent him and opened it. From a wooden frame stared the faces of his two closest friends, smiling over a basket of fries. In that unguarded moment, their usual pretense of mere tolerance of each other was gone and the truth of their relationship was disclosed. Jim knew he would mentally refer to this photo every time the two were at odds with each other-- that meant at least once a day.
He carefully lay the picture aside and unfolded the short note Daryl had written to him. "You were right, sir. It's all about friendship."
Jim smiled. Now where had he heard that before...