Close Your Eyes
Christmas Eve at the Loft
"I'm glad we decided to open presents tonight instead of waiting for tomorrow morning."
Jim was gathering the wrapping paper Blair had enthusiastically ripped off his packages, stuffing it in a garbage bag. "You mean YOU decided--for me it was either come along for the ride, or open my gifts in solitary splendor tomorrow."
"Nah." Blair stood up, holding a pair of brand new pair of flannel boxer shorts up against his body. "Are you sure you got the right size?" Jim paused, raising an eyebrow. "Right, right--Sentinel. Probably could give a description of me in millimeters. You know, I had no idea they made flannel with kissy lips and hearts on it."
"I had to look. You mean you'd have waited if I'd just held firm?"
"No, man. I mean that when I had finished opening my presents, I would have started on yours. What's the big deal?"
Jim shrugged, tying the bag closed. "Oh, it's just that I'm going to miss getting that feeling of surprise on Christmas morning. That was as much fun as the actual gifts--being surprised. Pull the screen the rest of the way shut on the fire, and I'll let it burn itself out instead of dousing it. We can do with the heat."
"I'll say." Blair pulled the chain that drew the linked-chain curtain across the front of the fireplace, protecting the area from sparks or falling embers. "It's totally ridiculous, man. The weather man said this is the coldest winter in about fifteen years."
"Yeah, and wet. Ice everywhere--but no snow. I'm just glad I don't operate a wrecker service--I'd be worked off my feet. As it is, the rotten weather seems to have sent the criminal population of Cascade into a bit of hibernation." Blair had followed Jim into the kitchen, and Jim noticed him shivering slightly, despite his usual multiple layers of clothing. "It's that bad?"
Blair shrugged. "I just walked past the balcony. Even with that thick curtain you put up for insulation, it's like walking down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. Jim was leaning back against the counter, arms crossed. "I guess you don't feel it. It would take Arctic cold to penetrate that cable-knit sweater you're wearing."
"If you're that cold, let's go on to bed." Jim snapped off the light. "No point in staying up any later. I'm past the 'let's try to catch Santa' phase."
"I thought I did once, but it was just Naomi's current boyfriend coming in late. We were in Boston at the time, and he was taking part in a Colonial Christmas Pageant."
Jim frowned. "I thought that the popular image of Santa Claus wasn't around until much later."
"It wasn't, but he was playing a Redcoat, man. I was five--what was I supposed to think?"
Jim shook his head, putting his hand on Blair's shoulder and steering him out of the kitchen. "Let's get upstairs. Heat rises, so it should be warmer up there. Maybe if you thaw out, you'll make more sense."
"Don't count on it." Blair slanted a sly look at Jim as they went up the stairs. "But maybe after we get in bed, I can give you some of that sense of surprise you say you miss."
Jim stopped abruptly, staring at Blair. "Sandburg, do you mean to tell me that you have sexual techniques you haven't shown me?" Blair smiled. "I may not survive till New Years, but it'll be worth it."
Jim wasn't sure what time it was when he felt Blair get up. It was too early to open his eyes, anyway, so he grabbed for his Guide blindly. "Missed," came the cheerful retort. "Let me alone so I can get dressed. My goose flesh is getting goose pimples."
"Then get back in bed," Jim mumbled. "I could use the body heat myself. What the hell are you doing up so early, anyway? There's no point in getting up at the crack of dawn--not when we opened the presents last night."
"I'm up because once I'm awake, there's no point in trying to go back to sleep. Anyway, I need to pee, and the bathroom is downstairs, and I have a feeling you wouldn't take kindly to me piddling on the floor." Blair's speech had pauses and hesitations as he pulled on his wardrobe. "By the time you're ready to get up; I'll have the fire stoked again, and coffee made. Depending on how ambitious I'm feeling, I might also have something other than Cap'n Crunch fixed for breakfast."
"If you don't feel up to it, don't fix any for me. It gets too soggy."
"I detect sarcasm. Not nice on Christmas, Jim."
Blair paused at the head of the stairs. "You really AREN'T looking forward to getting up this morning, are you? Did I screw up, insisting on...?"
Jim opened his eyes. "No, you didn't. We're making our own traditions. I don't have to hang on to the old ones till I strangle them." He sighed. "It's just that all the surprises are over all ready. I sort of wish I'd saved one for today."
Blair looked at Jim thoughtfully, said, "I'll see what I can do," and headed downstairs.
Jim lay back with a sigh. "Oh, lord. I hope he doesn't start experimenting with baking again. Last time it took me two cans of cleaner to get the oven presentable again."
Jim lay for a few moments, listening to Blair move around downstairs, then got up and dressed. As he was starting down the stairs, Blair came and stood at the foot of the case, smiling up at him. Jim stopped half-way down. "Uh-oh. That's the 'I've got a secret look'. What now?" Blair crooked a finger at Jim, and Jim came the rest of the way down almost reluctantly.
"I'm going to put a little surprise back in your Christmas." Jim was standing with his back to the loft's balcony. "Turn around and close your eyes."
Jim stared at him. "No way. The last time someone said that to me, when I turned back around they were gone, and I had a new kitten. An unlitterbox trained kitten. I didn't know that was possible. I thought the mothers taught them." Blair was staring at him. "You're not the only one who can babble."
"Maybe I just want to get Beatles on you."
"You know." Blair sang, "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you--tomorrow I'll miss you. Remember I'll always be there..."
"Aren't you too young to remember them?"
"Remember them? Hell, man, they never really went away."
"Well, if you're going to kiss me, I'll do it." Jim turned around and closed his eyes. "You're sure this isn't a kitten? Or a puppy? Were you making those remarks about piddling on the floor as a lead in to giving me a fuzzy bundle I'll have to paper train?"
"Shut up for a minute, will you? And don't open your eyes till I tell you to."
Jim heard the whisk of material, then the slide of a door on its runner. There was a blast of cold, moist air. "Blair, you didn't leave it out on the balcony, did you? Not in this weather. I'll have to take it to a vet just to be sure..."
"Open your eyes."
Jim did. He blinked. The balcony was covered in at least three inches of snow, the powder even heaped along the railing. The air outside was thick with swirling flakes. The sky was pale gray, and it was hard to tell where air ended and snow began. A few flakes blew through the open door, and Jim felt their touch on his face like tiny, chilly kisses. He gaped, and then his mouth spread in a silly, delighted smile.
Blair's breath was warm in his ear. "Surprise."
"How did you arrange this?"
"My ways are mysterious." He shrugged. "Nature's ways are, too. There are going to be a lot of weathermen getting chewed out over not having warned us about this one. If you don't mind, I'm freezing my ass off." Blair shut the door, pulling the curtains closed. "So, does this take away the 'no surprise on Christmas' blues?"
"Sure does." Jim pulled Blair into his arms, burying his face in the smaller man's hair, drinking in the feel and scent, listening to the comforting, steady heartbeat that had kept him grounded and sane so many times. He pulled back slightly and kissed Blair, murmuring, "But there's a lot to be said for the familiar."
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Patt for the cover. Thank you to Mary, for the beta.