Every Day - Ice Bear
‘And so this is Christmas’; the line from the holiday song played over and over in Jim Ellison’s head as he stood staring out over the water. He’d walked to the park near the loft in order to think over what his partner wanted – Christmas with all the trimmings; tree, carols; mistletoe; peace on earth; the works.
Holidays had never been kind to Major Crime’s senior detective. The last ‘merry’ Christmas he could remember was when he was four. His brother was a baby, and his parents had been getting along. It had been downhill after that. The last Christmas with his mother, she’d threatened to throw an electrical fry pan at his father because it wasn’t the exact model she wanted. She’d spent the rest of the day in her room while his father retreated to his office, leaving their young sons to look after themselves.
After she left, Christmas was simply a day to be endured. There was no good will toward men in the Ellison household. His father had their housekeeper put up a tree only if he had to hold a holiday party for business. His secretary, who had never met Jim or his brother, bought the boys presents and wrapped them. Bill Ellison was always as surprised as his sons at the gifts they opened. And his father never commented on the gifts he received from his sons.
Holidays in the Army were easier. They were generally just another day, and Jim always volunteered for duty – when stateside - so his colleagues with families could have it off. In the jungle, he hadn’t noticed it or missed it. When he got married, he went all out, wanting to give his new wife a holiday to remember. She insisted they spend it with her family and hadn’t wanted the loft decorated because it was “too much trouble,” since they were going “home.” He’d searched the greater Cascade area for the perfect gift, only to have the hand crafted gold earrings he’d picked out returned for a credit she’d never used.
So he’d officially given up on Christmas, until the long haired anthropologist turned detective worked his way into his home and his heart. Blair celebrated anything and everything – the solstice, Kwanza; Chanukah; Christmas; even Arbor Day. It was one of the many things he loved about his mate; he celebrated life every single day. He could feel the smile cross his face at the thought of the lively man who owned his heart and soul. It quickly turned to a frown, though, as he considered his dilemma.
They’d been together for five years – only the last one as lovers – and during that time their holidays had always been different. The first year they’d both worked, but shared a small turkey dinner on Christmas Eve. It had been a very special evening. Neither one had been sure about giving gifts, but they had shared their delight at the thoughtfulness of the other. The second year, Blair had been in New Mexico with his mother; the third year, they’d shared it with their friends at Major Crimes with a feast and a secret Santa gift exchange that had everyone in stitches. Last year, they’d decorated the loft with a real tree and hand made ornaments they’d picked out together at a local crafts fair. A serial killer had prevented them from spending the day at home, but they’d made do.
This year was going to be different. They’d admitted their love to each other and had worked as hard at this new aspect of their relationship as they did at work. Having Blair as his official partner both at work and at home had made a tremendous difference to the older man. He felt more at peace then at any other time in his life.
They had talked; or rather Blair had talked, about what he wanted to do for Christmas. And the pressure had started to wear on Jim. He knew, deep in his heart, that it would be a great day as long as he got to spend it with his partner, but his mind was busy running laps on the worry track that he wouldn’t be able to live up to his lover’s expectations. His history weighed heavily on his mind, and it made him uneasy.
He would do everything within his power not to have a repeat of those miserable holidays, but he was realistic enough to know that his record was pretty dismal, at least to date. Maybe it was just his fear based response rearing its ugly head, but he wanted - with all his heart - to make it a special day in honor of the man who changed his life for the better.
He knew he needed to talk this through, to try and explain his feelings. Blair would help him figure it out, he always did. And he had learned the hard way - after the fountain; after Sierra Verde; after the dissertation - that the only way to deal with a problem was to discuss it. And he never wanted to revisit the feelings of those times, because losing Blair would be the same as losing himself. And that is what would happen if he didn’t at least try to tell his partner what was bothering him.
Such a disclosure would, he knew, require him to admit Blair into that closet where his fear of rejection lived. Granted, it occupied a much smaller space now, but it was still alive and kicking. He knew he needed to come clean, if he had any hope of making it through the holidays with his sanity in one piece. So he scrunched deeper into his leather jacket and headed back to the loft.
Blair was huddled on the couch, under two blankets, reading an anthropology journal. The man’s mind simply never turned off, Jim marveled as he started a fire before working his way onto the couch so he ended up with Blair’s head in his lap. His hand carded through the long, silky hair, and he smiled as a soft moan of pleasure escaped the younger man. He kept up the motion for a few more minutes, enjoying the sense of calm that settled over him. He thought briefly of putting off the unpleasant conversation, but while Jim Ellison was many things, a coward wasn’t one of them.
He urged his partner into a seated position, and gathered him close to his side. He took a deep breath, which earned him a concerned look from his better half, and started talking. He spoke haltingly of his childhood memories of the holiday; how his mother made a habit of turning the day into a family crisis; how Sally took on the job of purchasing a tree because his father forgot one year; how Carolyn had made him feel unwanted and unneeded on a day she wanted to spend with “her family”; and finally, of his fear that he wouldn’t be able to make the day the one that Blair wanted.
After he finished, he turned to look at his lover. The soft smile and warm look surprised him, as did the rib crunching hug he received. But it was the laughter that really got this attention. He pushed himself off the couch and moved to the balcony, his mind in an uproar. He couldn’t believe he’d laid his heart on the line only be laughed at. But before he had time to work himself into a fury, his waist was captured, and he was pulled back to rest against the broad chest of his partner.
Blair placed a chaste kiss on his right ear before settling his chin on the muscular shoulder. He apologized softly for laughing. He’d just been surprised and touched that Jim had been so worried about one day out of 365. He thought he’d made it clear that every day together was a reason to celebrate, and while some days were better the others, every day was a good one when he was with Jim. He hadn’t meant to apply pressure based on a date on the calendar.
He wondered aloud if the fact that neither had ever had a ‘happy’ traditional Christmas, was a good enough reason to strive for one this year. He was saddened by the lack of happy memories his partner carried with him, and it was time to correct that.
Jim had relaxed as the comforting voice talked him down from his anger. He apologized for his fear based response, but was immediately shushed. He had nothing to be sorry for. Stating his concerns was how it was supposed to work, and Blair was proud of him for being comfortable enough to bring it up. That’s the kind of communication that made relationships work.
Jim turned to face his partner and pulled him to his chest. He rested his face against the silky hair for a long moment, breathing in the life force that was his Guide. It was going to be alright; somehow he’d make sure it was a day to remember, for both of them. That decision made, he turned his mind to more pleasant activities – running his tongue over the luscious lips of his partner, tasting the essence that was Blair.
Not to be left out, the younger man signaled his interest in the proceedings by grinding his hips against the bigger man, his arousal evident. Ellison would have been content to lose himself in the moment, but Blair could be insistent when he wanted to be, and he started backing up toward the couch, pulling the bigger man with him.
He maneuvered Jim around so the back of his knees hit the couch first. He used his deft hands to unbutton the soft denim work shirt and slip it off the granite shoulders. He pulled away from the kiss for a moment to admire his handiwork. He never got tired of the sight of Jim bare-chested. The man was a living work of art. He ran a finger across the collar bone and down to the left nipple, earning a sharp intake of breath from his subject. His mouth slipped in for a quick taste of the hardening nub, before pushing the big body down the couch.
Jim caught Blair as he followed him down and pulled him close, his hands running under the two shirts before lifting them up and off. He reveled in the hairs blanketing the soft skin of his mate as his hands breezed up the back, causing it to arch into the touch. Using the distraction, his mouth nipped the base of the throat before the tongue took over, quickly finding its favorite target – the ring on his right nipple. Blair groaned loudly as the talented mouth lipped and sucked and gently twisted the ring as the slender fingers continued to map his back.
When Jim’s fingers tired of the game, or that’s how Blair interpreted it based on his moan at the loss of their touch, they found their way to the elastic waist of his sweats and tugged lightly. He managed to lift himself enough for them to be pulled onto his thighs. The hands then took up residence on his ass, bringing him up on his knees between Jim’s thighs.
The soft sounds of desire coming from his partner drove Jim on. He loved the times when they could block out the world. He opened his eyes to watch the sensual movements of his mate, brought about by the work of his hands. Blair moved with an erotic sway that drove the Sentinel to madness more often then not. Closing his eyes to draw the moment out, he placed his hands under the now warm ass and lifted it up. Understanding the silent request, Blair braced his hands on the bare shoulders and pulled himself up so his very interested cock was even with his partner’s mouth.
Jim kept his eyes closed, breathing in the scent of arousal and losing himself in it. Blair took his cock in hand and used it to outline the open mouth in front of him. The pink tongue slipped out and lapped at the pre cum. His partner’s quick intake of breath was all the encouragement Jim needed to take the engorged cock into his mouth. His hands returned to the abandoned ass; one hand ghosting over the swollen balls. Blair was lost in the sensation, his movements becoming increasingly erratic as Jim’s tongue tortured him. There was no effort to stop his hips from thrusting, and he took that as an open invitation to fuck that hot mouth for all he was worth.
Restless hands moved to Blair’s nipples, pushing his erection further into the mouth and back down to his balls. Sensing he was close, Jim slipped a finger into Blair’s mouth, getting it slick before he slipped it into the thrusting ass. The sense of being filled sent Blair over the edge, and he screamed out his lover’s name as his body let loose. Strong hands held him up when his strength deserted him. Jim carefully lapped him clean before lowering him back to his lap and pulling him close.
When Blair was finally able to open his eyes, he found warm blue ones smiling at him. He reached for a kiss, enjoying his own taste mixed with the one that was uniquely Jim’s. They sat together, kissing and caressing, while Blair regrouped. Once his brain had kicked back into gear, he stood up – ignoring the moan of loss from Jim – and pushed off his sweats, smiling slightly when he realized he was being watched from under hooded eyes.
He asked silently for permission before undoing and divesting Jim of his jeans and boxers. He took a moment to appreciate the view – the lean, muscled, tan body that was all his. His smile was feral as he looked at his lover, before repositioning him on the couch, so he was laid out along its length. Jim’s hungry eyes continued to follow his every movement, closing momentarily only when a stray finger flicked softly across the crown of his erection.
Blair climbed back abroad the beautiful body and spread out along its length, taking a moment to enjoy the warmth that emanated beneath him. He sighed as he felt the sensitive fingers on his back. Jim enjoyed the sight of naked guide on top of naked sentinel. If only life could stay this simple. Shaking his head slightly he was brought out of his thoughts by the feel of teeth on his nipple. The slight twinge of pain was quickly soothed by the talented tongue, and he felt his back arching into the movement. His lover had once made him come solely by playing with his nipples, and as delightful as that had been, today he wanted – no, he needed – more.
Jim pushed down on his lover’s head, and understanding the nonverbal request, Blair moved further down the body, until his tongue was playing with Jim’s navel. A quick slap on the taut stomach brought Jim back to the present – zoning was a problem when it came to sex – but his lover always seemed to know when he was headed over the edge.
The warm mouth ignored the waving erection and settled in to lick his balls. He is trying to kill me, Jim thought vaguely as whatever blood left in his brain rushed to his cock. He closed his eyes and gave into the sensation that was Blair. He was so focused on the work the talented mouth was doing that he didn’t hear the soft squirt as his partner lubed two fingers and began opening his own passage.
Blair lapped the cock head gently before sitting up and moving to cover the slim hips. The sudden lack of warmth brought Jim’s eyes open in time to watch his partner glide slowly onto his cock. Blair’s body seemed to undulate into the movement, causing Jim’s breath to catch in this throat. Once he was settled, Blair reached forward and they shared a toe tingling kiss. The younger man pulled back and placing his hands firmly on the washboard abs began to move. He shifted once to change the angle so the cock would hit his prostate on every pass. Jim’s hand came up and took his leaking cock in his fist and began moving in sync with its owner’s thrusts.
The heat and friction of the hand on his cock moved Blair faster, and he began to thrust awkwardly, intent on finding completion. He stopped in mid-thrust as his own orgasm overtook him, bringing him heavily down on Jim’s cock. The abrupt move, coupled with the scent and sight of his partner’s orgasm, was more then enough to send Jim over the edge; his hips lifting off the couch as his body sought to move even further into the tight passage. Blair smiled as he felt the rush of warm semen in his passage, before he slumped forward onto the broad chest. Strong arms encompassed him as they drifted off to sleep.
The holiday season brought the usual increase in crime to the Great City. Jim had never understood why the goodwill that was supposed to herald the season brought about, instead, increased cruelty toward one’s fellow man. The number of cases went up as did the accompanying paperwork. They worked long hours in the wet, cold weather - day after day, night after night.
Even his Captain was surprised, though, at the even temper he maintained. Simon kept asking Sandburg what he was using to drug the coffee, but Jim knew that it was simply his partner’s presence that steadied him through the difficult ups and downs of holiday work. They turned to each other when they found the dead bodies of two little girls in their matching snow suits, bludgeoned to death and left in a cold alley. He held Blair’s hair back while he vomited, a hand running comforting circles on his back. Blair held Jim two nights later as the scene became a vivid nightmare. They tracked down, with single minded determination, the mother who wanted to be rid of her children, and they shared a sense of satisfaction when the cell bars clanged shut on her.
Jim drove them out of the city the Saturday before Christmas to pick out a tree. While Blair would have been happy with one from a corner lot, Jim wanted to find the perfect tree. He remembered a tree farm where Sally had taken them once and how much fun he and his brother had picking out their very own tree. Blair seemed to understand there was something else going on and got into the spirit as they walked the rows of trees, hand in hand, enjoying the mingled scent of fresh air and evergreens.
It took them over an hour to agree on a tree. They took turns with the small axe and soon had it down and back to the truck. They set it up in the corner of the living room, and spent the rest of the day decorating it, in between lunch, laundry and stolen kisses. After dinner that night, Jim made hot cocoa from scratch and added a scoop of marshmallow fluff, just the way his partner liked it. They lay on a pile of pillows and blankets with the darkness cut only by the lights of the tree.
Jim bought a wreath for the door, and Blair hung mistletoe. The loft took on a warm glow that made Jim pause to savor it every time he walked in the door.
He had been working for several months on Blair’s big present, and he picked it up three days before Christmas on his way home from work. He was pleased with himself, knowing it was something his partner wouldn’t be exchanging. He tucked the gift in his jacket pocket before heading to the liquor store next door in the small strip mall. He was carefully reading labels, looking for a particular California Chardonnay Blair liked, when he heard the unmistakable click of a gun.
He was situated out of sight of the counter, as the store was a collection of high shelves and narrow aisles. He pushed his senses out in order to get a lay of the land. There were two more heart beats then there had been when he entered, and he could smell the fear rolling off at least one of the bodies by the register. He moved slightly toward the back of the store so he could use the large mirror in one corner to get a view of the front.
His hearing positioned two women near the back at the other side of the store so he crouched down and moved cautiously to them, offering his badge and a finger to his mouth requesting silence. He moved them into the store room and closed the door after handing them his cell phone and punching in 911.
He retreated toward the middle of the store, behind a large display of dessert wines, and settled on his heels. The owner was a cool customer, which boded well for all of them. But the responses from the robbers were clearly not those of anyone in control, and Jim realized, after another scan of his senses, that they were high on something.
He grabbed a bottle of wine and moved up the aisle, calling out to the owner as he did so, asking an inane question about the vintage. He rounded the last shelf and found a gun in his chest. He raised his hands glad he’d zipped up his jacket so they couldn’t see his weapon.
Taking a deep breath he started talking, Blair’s voice running in his head as he did his best to ease the tension in the room as much as possible. He knew he’d made some progress when the gun in front of him lowered slightly. The owner had used the distraction to step further away from the counter, and Jim knew the man now had room to take cover should his efforts not be successful.
The twinkle of a bell over the door pushed the situation into overdrive. The owner dropped out of sight, and Jim swung the bottle he held with all his might, knocking one of the perps out. The second one swung his gun unsteadily from the new customer to Jim before squeezing the trigger. Jim took a bullet in the chest, collapsing backwards onto several wine crates. The perp ran for the door and was lost to the night as sirens converged on the parking lot out front.
It took the uniforms a few minutes to realize the wounded man was one of their own. They placed a call to Major Crimes after the request went out for an ambulance.
Captain Banks walked out of his office and headed for the desk of his junior detective. When the blue eyes looked up from a pile of paperwork, their warmth bled out as they met the brown ones. A firm hand on his shoulder kept the smaller man in his seat long enough to learn what they knew. Then he was ushered out of the bullpen and down to the garage for the trip to the hospital.
Blair stood silently beside his Captain in the ER waiting room while one of the uniforms from the scene explained what had happened. When he was done, the detective retreated to the far corner of the room and settled into a chair, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees.
It was early the next morning before Blair was allowed to see his partner. He settled quietly into the chair beside the bed in the ICU, after picking up Jim’s hand. His fingers played gently over the tan skin, tracing vague patterns while he talked softly. He reminded his lover of the large turkey he’d promised to cook; how he’d bought all the ingredients for Ellison’s weird ass version of cranberry sauce, and he’d even given in and bought the fried onion rings to go with the green beans and tomato soup that the big man had been pining for. There was no way he was letting his partner out of his promise to cook it all.
He joined Simon in the waiting area four hours later while the doctor was doing a checkup. He gratefully sipped the coffee and nibbled on the roast beef sandwich the Captain had liberated from the cafeteria. He hesitantly accepted the plastic bag with Jim’s belongings and after a long moment, sat his coffee down and opened the bag. He smiled as he traced the worn leather on the familiar wallet. His expression turned grim when his fingers found the dried blood on the leather badge case. The blue eyes closed, only to open a moment later, when the fingers found something he didn’t recognize.
It was a flat, velvet covered, black box topped by a crushed red and gold ribbon. He held it up to Simon silently. The Captain shook his head slightly and explained that Jim had left early to pick up a Christmas gift. Blair fingered the box carefully before handing it to the older man and asking him to keep it until Jim was better. That way, he explained, he wouldn’t be tempted to peek. Simon caught his laughter before it escaped and schooled his expression to match the seriousness of Blair’s as he solemnly accepted the box and tucked it into his jacket.
Blair returned to the small room once the doctor was done and resumed his seat. He took the cold hand back in his and began talking. He told stories about the odd holidays he and Naomi had spent with friends of different faiths in different parts of the world. He spoke of the hand carved menorah Jim had given him last year, and how important it was to him. He laughed about dropped birthday cakes, sparklers that refused to be lit, and summer solstice events with naked dancers that lasted all night.
He stood up and hovered over the bed railing, one hand tracing a line down the pale cheek. With a half stutter, he whispered his love and his need. He spoke of his dream for their first official Christmas together, and how he had wanted it to be perfect for the man who had given him so much. He reminded him of their search for their tree and the time spent cuddling on the floor, wrapped together with only the tree lights to guide them.
He maintained his vigil for three days. He would sleep in the waiting room while one of their friends kept watch, ate what was brought to him, and showered in the nurses’ locker room. But he was never out of the small room for more then a few hours. He couldn’t force himself away because, while he couldn’t put it into words, he feared somewhere deep inside that leaving would be tantamount to abandoning Jim. And he adamantly refused to join the long list of people who had walked out on his partner when the going got tough.
Christmas passed quietly. Jim’s father and brother visited briefly, but William was clearly uncomfortable and Steven was torn between the needs of his brother and father. He chose his father, who had no one, and ushered him out of the room, after giving Blair a pep talk.
As he stood by the window that night, admiring the stars in the clear sky, he gathered all his love and strength and called to his mate to come back to him. He made it an order, since all the begging and pleading and cajoling he’d been doing hadn’t worked. When he got no response, he retired to his chair, took hold of the lax hand and fell asleep.
He slept through the morning check up; the nurses had learned to work around him. When he woke, the sun was bright and flooded the room with warmth. His efforts to stretch were disrupted when the hand he still held pulled back. He stepped to the bed and found blue eyes staring at him. They were weary and showed signs of pain, but they tracked his movement as he leaned in for a kiss.
The Sentinel’s silent appraisal of his Guide was short as it got stuck on the wide smile that animated the beloved face. He tried to smile back, but was too weary to get both ends of his lips to cooperate. So he squeezed the hand he held tightly and dropped back to sleep.
Recovery moved forward at an acceptable pace, as far as the doctors were concerned, and the patient was released two days after New Years. Neither man had mentioned the missed holiday so Jim was more than a little surprised to find the tree still up when he got home. But as the tree’s smell blanketed him, he smiled down at the man tucked under his arm, and stole a chaste kiss.
He was ensconced in the small room under the stairs for now, since stairs were on the doctor’s long list of ‘not to do’ items. As he settled into the mattress, he tugged gently on Blair’s waist and smiled when the smaller man stretched out beside him. Arms wrapped around each other, Blair’s head resting on his shoulder, Jim released a long, soft sigh and slipped into sleep. Blair was not far behind.
Simon visited the next day, so Blair could run some errands. A full holiday meal, complete with turkey, cranberry sauce – courtesy of Sally - yeast rolls and mincemeat pie, was on the table when he returned. Simon and Jim smiled at the shocked expression, and the Captain couldn’t let the occasion pass without comment since he’d never seen the man speechless.
Jim joined his partner at the table, smiling when Blair’s mouth kicked back into gear as he tried to get his brain around this gift from their friends. After the meal, Jim settled on the couch and waited for his partner to join him. He did so in short order, balancing delicate cut glass champagne glasses.
Jim pulled a box out from beside the couch which Blair could see was filled with brightly wrapped packages. He nodded to himself and headed up the stairs to pick up his packages. They laughed and joked at the gifts as they opened them. Jim’s fingers returning again and again to play with the cashmere blue sweater that was his second present. Blair came off the couch when he opened a box to find a first edition Burton book, his familiar bounce making Jim laugh as he exclaimed over it, reverently turning the pages.
The last gift Jim offered was the same flat, velvet covered box Blair had seen in the hospital. The ribbon had been replaced, he noted absently, as he opened it. He stared at the contents for so long in silence that Jim reached a hand over to push his long hair back so he could read his expression. Hands carefully lifted the soft leather necklace out of the box and held it up mutely. It held a black stone carved in the shape of a leaping jaguar.
Jim took the necklace and fastened it around his partner’s neck. Blair’s hands stole up to the cool stone and gently traced the figure, his blue eyes locked on Jim’s. Jim leaned forward and kissed him, breaking him out of his mini-zone. The Sentinel’s hand joined his in tracing the smooth stone for a moment before pulling back. With a hint of the small child he had once been, Jim asked hesitantly if he liked the gift.
Blair shook his head in wonder before launching himself at the bigger man, mindful of the healing chest. He took the noble face in both hands and held it so they were eye to eye. Taking a deep breath, he let it out, and stated calmly that it was the most amazing gift he’d ever been given and that it was beyond perfect. This earned him a slow, shy smile which he simply had to kiss.
They sat entwined, enjoying the moment. Jim finally broke the silence, although not his hold. He apologized for ruining the Christmas Blair had so carefully planned, and pledged to make it up to the man somehow.
A howl of outrage made him flinch as Blair bolted off his lap and began pacing. Even though he was a Sentinel, he had a hard time making out the mutterings emanating from the tornado that was currently circling their living room. He did catch the words ‘repressed, stupid and thickheaded’, but the rest was lost to him. Feeling as though he’d stepped deeper into a hole, the older man began to apologize again, only to be cut off abruptly.
Blair spun and focused his entire being on the man he loved. He started to speak twice before he was able to spit out his words. How anyone could apologize for getting shot while trying to stop a robbery – especially when said person had a genetic predisposition to protect - was so far beyond him that it wasn’t worth discussing. But the fact that said certain thickheaded individual couldn’t grasp the concept that their Christmas had been everything he had hoped for and more was a problem, and one they were going to solve. And he was just the man for the job. After all, he had a long history of teaching, and if it took the rest of his life, he would teach a certain bullheaded Sentinel that the only thing that mattered was that they were together. The day was not what dictated their emotions, but the fact that they were both alive to celebrate. He was amazed that such a talented detective had missed it with the facts being so obvious.
Jim sat in stunned silence. Blair watched his face closely as a myriad of emotions rampaged across it. He finally took pity on the man and reclaimed his seat. He smiled sweetly and snuggled in, his head resting just under Jim’s chin. Jim’s hands automatically began to run soothing motions over his back as he tried to process what had just happened. In his admittedly limited experience with relationships, whenever he’d screwed something up – even if it was outside his control – he’d been expected to apologize and made to pay for his mistakes.
His heart might understand that Blair was different then all the others, but his mind still had problems accepting it. He’d have to work on that, but it could wait, he thought as he lifted Blair’s face up, because right now he had better things to do – after all he couldn’t let all the mistletoe in the loft go to waste.
That night as they lay curled together on the big bed – Jim had weaseled a one time exemption from the doctor’s ‘not to do list’ – he whispered his love and devotion to the smaller man. And he thanked him for loving him, a difficult task he admitted, but he promised to make it worth his while. Blair laughed softly before assuring him that he was well worth the effort, and his hope that every day they shared would be as wonderful as their Christmas.
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Acknowledgements: Thanks to Patt for the invitation to join the fun, to Mamacat for the beta and the ego boost, to Sam for not laughing when he found out what I do in my spare time, and to Gus and Goula for keeping me company while I write.