Jim's head jerked up as his name was shouted in a variety of ways. Blair glanced at him then stared back at the door to Major Crime which was filled with a gang of men, all of whom were tall, well-built and looked like they could beat the snot out of short anthropologists in a fight.
"Bet you never expected to see us again!" one of them said when Jim continued to sit, apparently dumbstruck.
Jim blinked, shook his head then jumped to his feet. "Not outside of a prison cell, anyway. Who let you in here?" The grin on his face was dazzling as the men surrounded him, slapping him on the back, shaking his hand and even, to Blair's surprise, ruffling his hair - not that it was particularly 'ruffable'.
A slightly shorter man grinned. "We conned our way in, Jimbo. I said I was Santa and these were my little Elves."
"And they believed you?"
"Not at all, Jimbo, not at all. So we snuck around the back and came down the chimney like the nefarious lot we are!"
"Getting a little thin on top, aren't we, Ellison?" another man jibed, his bald head shining under the office lights.
"Just trying to catch up with you, Hawkins, that's all."
The jeers and catcalls as the others agreed with Jim brought Simon out of his office.
"What the hell is going on here?"
Obviously recognising the tone of command, the men's heads snapped around to stare at the large black man filling the doorway.
"Simon! These are some friends of mine from...a long time ago." Jim waved his hand over the group, "O'Sullivan," the slightly shorter man, who still topped six foot, nodded his head, "Hawkins, Barker, Langley, Stewart, Yaeger and Daniels. Guys, this is Simon Banks, my boss, and this," one warm hand dropped onto Blair's shoulder, "is my partner, Blair Sandburg."
Blair raised a hand in greeting. "Hi, guys."
"Lone Wolf Ellison working with a partner." The aforementioned Langley, a pale-faced man with a shock of red hair, shook his head sorrowfully. "We pity ya, kid."
Blair grinned in reply. "So, these guys know you well then, Jim, huh?"
"Laugh it up, shortstuff." The glare Jim sent his way didn't fool anyone. "What are you guys doing in town?"
O'Sullivan perched on the edge of Jim's desk, swinging one long leg casually. "We've been planning this meeting for a while, Jimbo. And, as we all ended up in or near Cascade by good luck or bad fortune, we decided to make it a Christmas reunion and drag you along with us. Of course," his gaze dropped to the desk and he fiddled with a pen beguilingly, "if you're too afraid to go out with a few old army buddies in case you end up in another tattoo parlour, we'll understand that...."
"Another tattoo parlour?" Blair's grin threatened to split his face.
"Oh yeah." The guy leaned forward in a confidential manner. "You see, kid -"
Jim leaned on the desk, accidentally blocking Blair's view of the guy. "I don't think we need to go over old history."
"Now, Jimbo, it's my story and I'm telling it."
"C'mon...Jimbo...I'd love to hear it." Blair grinned at the glare Jim sent his way.
"Fine. Just remember that O'Sullivan is part Irish, so he's got the gift of the gab."
O'Sullivan grinned. "And I've kissed that Blarney Stone more times than I can count! Now move yerself, Ellison, the kid was listening to my story." Jim moved and O'Sullivan continued. "As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted...one night, on leave, Jimbo here decided that he'd like a tattoo. Not just any tattoo, it had to be special, he said, and he'd know it when he saw it. So he dragged us from tattoo parlour to tattoo parlour, stopping at pubs in between, of course, until he found the design he wanted. Finally he chose one, this huge black panther."
Blair glanced at Jim, who rolled his eyes in response.
"So we sat him in the chair, the tattooist pulled out his needle...and Jimbo here passed out in fright."
"It was not in fright! I was drunk!"
There was a hubbub of disagreement as his old companions made plain their views, then O'Sullivan continued, "In fright, says I, and this ugly lot agree with me. Well, the tattooist refused to continue unless Jimbo was conscious, so we dragged poor Jimbo out of there and threw him in the harbour. By the time we got him out, he was sober and mad as hell - and he never did get that tattoo."
"And you think that I'll go drinking with you tonight." Jim shook his head, still laughing.
A large black man who almost rivalled Simon in height looked sincere. "But we promise not to let you near any tattoo artists with their extra-large needles, Jimmy!"
Jim looked down at the finger that was poking him in the chest. "And what makes you think that I'd trust you to keep your word, Barker?"
"Jim, I'm hurt." A brief look of devastation settled on the man's face before he grinned and winked, "But a wise man knows to watch his back among drunkards!"
"Especially where tattoo parlours are concerned!" another man joined in.
"So what do you say, Jimbo?" O'Sullivan returned to the question in hand. "Are you going to risk life and limb for a good time or not? Bring your friends too. I'm sure they have plenty of incriminating tales to share with us."
Blair grinned. "I'd love to, guys, but I have a date. Speaking of which, I have to get to the university." He stood up and grabbed for his jacket.
"He has a date. Jim? You're taller...by far," Hawkins' brown eyes twinkled merrily as they looked Blair up and down, "you're trained Covert Ops and you're not that bad-looking. Okay, so you don't have as much hair but you do have some charm, to speak of. How come you don't have a date?"
"Because I have more charm to go with the extra hair," Blair retorted, shrugging his backpack into place.
"And she's a 'Lord of the Rings' fan. She saw the height and the hair and mistook him for a Hobbit." Jim grinned down at Blair's indignant face.
"Don't expect me to sympathise when you come back with a tattoo, man. I'll take pictures and put them on the internet."
"He could do it too."
Blair grinned and made a mental note to try to find his camera for when Jim returned to the loft. It promised to be entertaining.
Blair looked up from the stack of blue books he was grading and frowned. Was it his imagination or could he hear a shushing noise? He listened, then moved towards the loft door. Wishing, not for the first time, that he had Sentinel hearing, he listened carefully.
There it was again - accompanied by some soft scuffling noises and a quiet scratching at the door. Curiosity got the better of him and he yanked open the door and stared down at his hunched over roommate, who was apparently attempting to pick the lock instead of using his key. "Jim?"
Jim straightened and stared at Blair for a second then smiled. "The door is open!" he announced grandly.
There was a chorus of cheers and a "We knew you could do it, Jimmy!" from the group before they all started shushing each other.
Blair kept his face straight and stood back as the men stumbled in, two of them carrying one man who was apparently incapable of walking. Blair frowned as Simon passed him with a large inflatable reindeer tucked under one arm. He was sure that was the reindeer which had been decorating Mrs. Marskowitz's front porch.
"Awww!" O'Sullivan stopped by the door and threw his arms around Blair. "Your Hobbit friend is here, Jimbo." Hugging Blair tightly, O'Sullivan confided, "He thought he'd lost you at one point and insisted on searching under all the tables. Said something about a magic ring and you going off to Mordor."
Blair gave it up and started grinning. They were all drunk as skunks! "Well, I'm here now," he assured O'Sullivan. He managed to escape the bear hug and collected up the blue books that he'd had scattered across the coffee table. He had a feeling he'd better get them to the safety of his backpack.
"'Return of the King'!" Barker had found the extended edition DVD that Jennifer had lent Blair. He waved it in the air, enthusiastically. "We have Chinese," several cartons were waved in the air, "we have a Hobbit," for a second Blair thought he was about to be waved in the air too, but Jim gave him a noogie instead, "and we have 'Return of the King'. What else do we need?"
There was silence for a few seconds, then, "Beer!" Simon declared.
"How about coffee instead?" Blair suggested, hopefully.
Jim put him to one side. "Beer! Simon has spoken!"
Blair followed him as he reeled towards the kitchen. "Man, you are so drunk!"
The figure stopped. "But in the morning, I shall be sober!"
Jim grinned triumphantly. "Dials, Chief," he murmured. "I'll turn the dials down and I won't feel a thing!"
"Jiiim!" One of the men, whom Blair suspected could be called Stewart, although he really wasn't sure, was whining. "The DVD's too big for the player!"
Blair hurriedly handed out the beer before going to the rescue. "It's okay, I'll figure it out." Removing one of the DVDs from the box, he put it into the player. "See? All fixed now!" Grabbing the remote control, he turned the film on and stuck the control into his pocket. He wouldn't trust these guys with an alarm clock let alone a remote control.
"So that's why you keep him around, Jimbo," O'Sullivan commented. "The boy's a bloody genius!"
Blair got a hug from his inebriated roommate, followed by another long noogie. "My brainy Hobbit!"
"Oookay, Jim. Tell you what, why don't you sit there?" He steered Jim over to one of the couches and resisted his urging to sit down and eat egg fried rice with him. Intending to head back to the kitchen in order to observe without getting involved, Blair stopped suddenly. "Are those ice skates?"
"Daniels!" Jim glared at the man who was resting his ice skated feet upon the coffee table. "No ice skates on the furniture!"
"That explains why I couldn't walk." Daniels sounded as though he'd solved the mystery of life itself. "Yaeger, I'm cured!"
Blair laughed hollowly. He could only imagine Jim's reaction in the morning if he got up to find a figure of eight in the polished floor. "Here, let me help you get them off." Stepping through the forest of legs, he reached Daniels and managed to unknot the laces and get the boots off. "Where did you get these?"
"We went skating in the park, Chief."
"On the ice," Simon clarified, presumably in case Blair thought they'd been skating on the grass.
"I fell down!" Daniels declared, mournfully. His face brightened. "But now I can walk!" He stood up and demonstrated his newly-rediscovered walking abilities.
Blair made a mental note to return the skates to the park in the morning and once more attempted to retreat to the kitchen. He was foiled by Yaeger who grabbed his arm as he passed. "We have a Hobbit!"
The men cheered and waved their cartons of Chinese food in the air.
"Elf!" Simon waved Rudolph in the air as Legolas appeared on screen.
"Men!" Hawkins looked remarkably in control of this out-of-control mission. "Elf ears on!"
Blair was released as the men solemnly pulled out a set of Elf ears each and put them on. "Oh, my God!"
Yaeger looked sad. "No Elf ears for the Hobbit!"
There was a second's silence as the party atmosphere in the room plummeted, then, "He will wear the hat!"
Within seconds, Blair found himself the proud, or not so proud, wearer of a red stocking cap, complete with a large white ball on the end of the tip. The ball dangled over one eye and he glared at it. He was wearing the stupidest hat ever invented, and he was trapped in the loft with eight drunken ex-Covert Ops Elves and a police captain, also drunk, also an Elf. Could the evening get any worse?
Yes, it could.
Yaeger, Blair decided, was a mournful drunk. In his experience there were several types of drunks available, with the spectrum ranging from 'mournful' through to 'ecstatically determined the whole world would party too'. He was extremely relieved that Jim was not an affectionate drunk (in spite of the hugging and noogieing) as having one large male roommate hanging all over you as he exclaimed that he "really, really loved you" was apt to lead to misunderstandings, in his experience. It had taken him months to get over the damage inflicted on his dating when a previous roommate had done it. That was one reason why he'd stuck to living alone for so long. Blair shook off the memories and returned to his hellish now, where Yaeger was still being mournful.
"No roast potatoes!"
"We have fortune cookies!" Langley sounded hopeful as he opened his carton of food and showed it around.
It led to pandemonium as he was promptly besieged by as many of the group who could still stand. Blair, his path to the kitchen blocked by the very large Barker, retreated to behind the Christmas tree instead and contemplated the baubles. He was really, really glad that Jim didn't get drunk often.
With dismay in his heart, he left the sanctuary of the tree but kept his distance. "Yes, Jim?" He was used to teaching classes of rebellious teenagers, and dealing with angry jocks who felt that their essays on why the cow stealing Massai tribe of Africa like to steal "cops" deserved an A instead of the F they received; he could handle nine drunks, he was sure.
Oh. Apparently, as the only sober guy, he got his fortune cookie first. Accepting his fate, and a cookie, he broke it open and read out loud, "You live in interesting times." He looked around. He'd never known a fortune cookie to be so accurate.
Finally, the alcohol overwhelmed the ex-Covert Ops men plus police captain and they all fell asleep, so Blair tiptoed through the Rangers and retrieved the DVD. Jennifer had sworn to kill him if he allowed anything to happen to it, and that would put an end to his plans for a second date.
Fiendishly delighted at the thought of the morning Simon, Jim and his friends were going to face, Blair retired to his room and went peacefully to sleep with an angelic smile on his face.
Morning came all too quickly for the drunken men and Blair listened with glee as several of them retired hurriedly to the bathroom and took turns calling Ralph on the big white telephone.
Stepping out of his room, he ran into his roommate, whose ghastly face showed that his control of the dials wasn't that good today. "Bad night, Jim?"
He got a frown. "Did we watch 'Return of the King' last night?"
"Yep." Blair made his way to the kitchen to make coffee, lots and lots of coffee, all too aware of his unhappy roommate hovering behind him.
"And Daniels was skating in the loft?"
"No. He wore ice skates though."
"Oh. I had a dream he was skating after Naomi who was wearing flags in her hair."
"Mom?" Blair turned to face Jim. What kind of a dream had he had that involved Naomi, flags and Daniels on ice skates?
"It was really weird. You were leaving for Mordor and Naomi was trying to stop Daniels from running you down." Jim shook his head slightly then stopped, pain flickering across his face.
"And she had flags in her hair?"
"The Stars and Stripes."
"Man. That is some weird dream."
"Tell me about it. Simon turned into Gandalf." Jim shuddered. "I think I need a lot of coffee."
Blair turned back to the percolator. "Coming right up, Jim."
"I wish you'd been there last night."
Blair turned around again, leaving the percolator to do its thing. "I was here last night, man - that was enough, believe me!" He restrained a grin as he thought of the photos he'd managed to take after they'd all fallen asleep. That photo of Simon hugging his stolen reindeer was worth the entire evening, but if Jim ever found out about the photographic evidence, he was positive his camera would come to a sticky end. He glanced up to find Jim staring at him, an odd look on his face. "What?"
Jim shrugged. "It just wasn't the same without you, Chief." He turned away then and went to help Simon stagger from the bathroom.
Blair made the coffee, a grin on his face. Jim didn't say much but whatever he did say, he meant.
"Jim!" Simon's voice sounded rougher than usual. "Was I hugging a reindeer last night?"
Blair's grin got wider. Yep, he couldn't wait to get his pictures developed. In fact, if he got them developed today, he could make Christmas cards out of one of the pictures. After all, he hadn't handed out his cards in the bullpen yet.
23rd December 2004