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"Adam Lay Ybounden"

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A stakeout on Christmas Eve. This has to be the absolutely shittiest thing.... But if there's even a chance we can bust this child-prostitution ring we've been chasing--especially on Christmas Eve--then it's worth it.

Cascade, Washington on Christmas Eve. Cold--friggin' cold--windy, the sting of light snow in the air. Air that cuts like knives into your lungs. The funny thing is I don't really have to be here. I'm not the cop. But I didn't want Jim to be alone.

When I get back to the truck, he's staring off into space, mouth turned down and eyes crinkled in his usual frown. I thump on the passenger side window because both my hands are full. Jim jumps, turns his head, and reaches out to open the door for me. I love seeing that scowl of his dissolve when I smile at him. He probably thinks I haven't noticed. Like anybody could not notice that great smile I'm getting in return.

I slide into the truck, hand him one of the cups of coffee I'm carrying, shift the other to my now-free left hand, and close the door. Jim sips cautiously and then makes a little noncommittal "mmm" sound. I know this means he really likes it.

"Pretty good, Chief. Is it what I think it is?"

"Yeah, if you thought eggnog." We grin at each other. Hot eggnog-flavored coffee, just the thing for a Christmas Eve stakeout.

We sit there quietly, sipping coffee, staring out the windshield. Every so often Jim switches on the wipers for a moment, to clear away the snow that drifts down like sprinkled sugar. We don't have the heat on, of course, can't keep the engine running on a stakeout, but--

"Hey, Jim, let's get some Christmas music on."

For once he doesn't bitch about it draining the battery. He just grunts and turns the key in the ignition so I can flip on the radio. I fiddle the dial, hunting for Rainier's public radio station.

"--And the Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening--"

"I know what this is," Jim says unexpectedly. "It's lessons and carols from King's College, Cambridge."

"Cool." I leave it on, listening to the thin voice of the English choirboy read about the garden of Eden. When he is finished, there's a brief silence, then a rustle--the choir standing up, maybe?--and then the carol.

"Adam lay ybounden,
bounden in a bond,
four thousand winter
thought he not too long.

"And all was for an apple,
an apple that he tooke,
as clerkes finden
written in here booke.

"Ne hadde the apple taken been,
the apple taken been,
ne hadde never our Lady
abeen hevene queen.

"Blessed be the time
the apple taken was!
Therefore we moun singen
Deo gracias!"

Short and simple as the carol is, it really gets to me, for some reason. The way it makes good out of evil. Can some good be made out of the evil Jim pursues on a daily basis? I open my mouth to broach a discussion and then Jim tenses like a hunting dog.

"There he is."

A tall man in a thin black trenchcoat comes out of the apartment building we've been watching. Head bent against the wind that whips his coat around his legs, he hurries down the street to the next corner. "Dial it up," I whisper, more out of habit than because Jim needs it. "Piggyback your hearing onto your sight."

Jim cracks the window on his side, head cocked. He's almost quivering like a hunting dog, even. With my ordinary eyesight I see several figures get out of a car and head back toward the building with the trench-coated man, but I can't make out any details. I look at Jim, who I can see, instead of at what I can't see. His jaw is tightening up.

"They've got a girl and a boy, Chief." His voice is thick with disgust. "Call Taggart, let's move in."

It gives me a little bit of a feeling of importance to be able to call in the rest of the team. Notwithstanding which, I want to rush out there and follow Jim, back him up no matter what.

For once I don't. I stay in the truck like I'm supposed to and watch the other cops and Jim move in on the knot of people, separate out the struggling children, handcuff the man in the black trenchcoat. When it's all over and Jim gets back to the truck, he's grinning from ear to ear.

"Just before midnight, Chief, and we got 'em." He starts up the truck. "You could go home now--I've gotta go in to the station for the paperwork."

I think about this for a moment, then shake my head. "Nah, I'll stick with you."

I get a little bit of smile that's for me, not for the bust, and then he pulls off, while King's College Choir sings about the tender Lamb appearing. Wonder if there'll be mint jelly to go with it.

It's well past midnight when we get back to the loft. Tired as I am, I plug in the lights on the tree and stand there, still with half my outside clothes on, looking at it, bleary-eyed. "Adam lay ybounden" runs through my head in broken phrases. We saved those kids, and it wasn't quite Christmas. Thank God.

"Take off your coat and stay a while, Chief."

I turn around and Jim is smiling at me wryly. "The tree looks nice," I say lamely, and then start shedding my gear, making sure to hang it all up. When I'm done, Jim has vanished, but not into the bathroom, so that's where I go. And get rid of several hours' worth of eggnog-flavored coffee.

I emerge from the bathroom to find Jim standing and looking at the tree, holding something in his hand. He turns to me and gets that gruff-cop look on his face, the one I don't buy any more because I know he has feelings. "Uh, Sandburg, it's a little late for Hanukkah, I know, but--I got you a present." He thrusts out a largish flat box.

"Wow. Thanks. I mean--"

"Just open it, and then thank me if you like it."

Jim turns away, like it doesn't matter, and goes over to the couch. I plop down beside him and tear open the package, scattering ribbons and bits of colored paper everywhere. Hey, it's Christmas.

I fold back layers of protective tissue and then just stare at the contents of the box. A hat, scarf, and gloves that match, in a rich dark maroon knit. I stroke the scarf--soft and woolly, really soft, and heavy in my hands when I lift it up.

"I thought you could use 'em," Jim mutters.

I explode in some kind of a happy noise. "Use them? Jim, these are great, better than anything I already own--I am gonna be toasty in these!" I laugh out loud and slap him on the arm, and Jim smiles, finally, convinced that I like the present.

"Merry Christmas, Blair," he says quietly. His voice is almost a purr.

I hug the box to my chest. "I didn't get you anything, man--I mean, we haven't--"

He waves away my objections. "Forget about it, Chief. This doesn't have to be tit for tat--I didn't give so I could get--"

"No, of course not, but I wish I had gotten you something--"

Maybe some wacko Christmas angel puts the idea into my head. Or some deviant elf Santa left behind, hiding behind the Christmas tree. Maybe the cold has just seeped into my brain.

"Wait, I do have something I'd like to give you." I put down the box on the coffee table, inch a little closer to the man, and move in very carefully to plant my lips on his.

He sees it coming. He's got to see it coming. But he doesn't pull away, or make a fast move and break my arm. I get there successfully, and yes! my lips are touching Jim Ellison's, which feel surprisingly soft and supple--hey, and alliterative--under my own.

It's a nice kiss, not too wet, not too dry, not too brusque, not too aggressive. I start to back away, and then this hand snakes into my hair, holding me still, and Jim Ellison's tongue snakes into my mouth.

I hear the angels singing.

Well, once he finally does let go of me, there's a lot of heavy breathing going on, most--but not all of it on my end. And he only lets go of me in the sense that my lips are on their own once more. Well. Pale, very focused blue eyes are gazing--yeah, gazing--intently into mine.

"You wanna be my Christmas present, Blair?" That was definitely a purr.

I think about this for a couple of seconds. Then I drop my voice into the sexiest tone I can manage, and curl my mouth into the sexiest smile I can manage, and whisper so only he can hear me, "Merry Christmas, Jim."

"Merry Christmas, Blair."

He gets up and tugs on my hair. I follow him up to the loft. I think this is going to be a very good Christmas.

End Adam Lay Ybounden.