The Gift of The Sentinel by Tinnean

The Gift of The Sentinel - Tinnean

Blair Sandburg was straight. I wasn't, although no one knew that.

How did I know my guide and best friend - he of the studly body and long, curly hair and object of many lustful fantasies - was straight? The gaggle of pretty women parading in and out of his life had been a dead giveaway.

I'd made the mistake once, back in high school, of falling in love with my straight best friend, and I was never going to put myself through that hell again. So I'd battened down my feelings.

The first year Sandburg had lived in the loft with me, it had been easy. I was still pretending I resented like hell the fact that I needed him, the neo-hippie, witch doctor punk, because the last thing I wanted him or anyone to know to know was how relieved a macho, former black ops, ex-Vice cop was to know I wasn't going out of my fucking mind. But macho, former black ops, ex-Vice cop and current Detective of the Year didn't reveal stuff like that, and so yeah, I'd pretended.

We'd spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that year on a stakeout, sitting in my truck, sharing a thermos of coffee, and freezing our asses off. While I'd done my strong, silent act, Blair had rambled on and on about various subjects, eventually getting to the topic of Christmas.

"Missing Christmas isn't a big deal, y'know, Jim? Naomi never bought into the commercialism of the holiday."

He'd never got to sit on Santa's lap or put out milk and cookies for him? There had been no self-pity in his words, but I'd found myself feeling bad for the little boy he had been. I'd given Blair a compassionate glance, but he'd been peering into the thermos to see if there enough coffee for one more cup, and so had missed it, which was a good thing. It would have spoiled my image as a hard ass.

After pouring what was left of the coffee into the cup and taking a sip, he'd licked the faint mocha moustache from his upper lip and continued. "Once I went away to college, I was swamped keeping up with my studies, and then a lot of the time I was on field trips too."

This time he saw my look, but fortunately he'd misinterpreted it.

"Those field trips were to places where it was easy to lose track of time, Jim. Before I'd know it, the season would have passed."

Somewhere along the way, the instant stab of lust I'd felt for him had developed into liking. If he was still around the following Christmas, I'd promised myself, we'd at least have a tree...

Now here it was, three years later, and he was still around. No matter how I'd fucked up, with other women... with that bitch Alex who'd left him to drown in the fountain at Rainier... he'd stayed.

I kept my promise. For the past two years, we'd celebrated Christmas with a tree, decorations, lights, a turkey with all the trimmings, even exchanging gifts.

I had to make sure that I didn't go overboard in the way of gifts. We were guys after all.

And I was supposed to be straight.

This year was different, though. I'd realized, after that fiasco with the dissertation, that I wasn't just lusting after his body, but that I loved him. Oh, I didn't expect him to love me back. Not only was he younger, but he was lugging around a lot less emotional baggage.

Not to mention that he was straight on top of that.

For a moment I thought wistfully of him being on top of me, then forced myself to snap out of it. I didn't want to alienate and lose my best friend by coming on to him.

****

It was a chill, damp afternoon in early December. Christmas was three weeks away, and I still had no idea what to get for Blair.

What did you get for the guy who had given up the equivalent of his Holy Grail for you?

Oh, I knew what I wanted to give him - me, with a bright red bow fastened around my dick, but - as I'd mentioned before, Sandburg was straight.

So instead, I asked Megan Connor. She and Blair were pretty good friends, and I thought maybe he'd mentioned something to her.

No such luck.

I asked Simon Banks, our captain at Major Crimes. Blair had gotten pretty tight with Simon's son, and although Blair was a cop now, he was tutoring Daryl in some subject or other a couple of nights a week. I thought Simon would know if Daryl had a clue.

No luck there either.

Separately, Henri Brown and Joel Taggart each suggested a Jags sweatshirt, while Brian Rafe was all for a nice dress shirt.

"Yeah, but did Blair say anything about that being what he wanted for Christmas?"

"No. He hasn't talked much about Christmas at all."

In an act of utter desperation, I called Naomi. For a change she was not only in the country, but within reach by telephone.

"Naomi, it's Jim Ellison."

"Hello, Detective Ellison." Her voice was cool. In spite of the fact that she'd been the one to precipitate the whole dissertation disaster, she put the blame that Blair had lost all chance of earning his doctorate squarely on me. "Is my son all right?"

"Yes."

"Then what do you want?"

"Has he said anything about Christmas?"

"As in... ?"

"What he... " I couldn't say 'wants Santa to bring him.' "... wants for Christmas?"

"We're Jewish, in case it escaped your notice. We don't celebrate Christmas."

She hadn't been around often enough or long enough to know what her son did or didn't celebrate, but I refrained from saying that.

"Well, then, Chanukah," I said with some impatience.

"No, Detective Ellison." She muttered something under her breath, but I had the enhanced hearing thing going on, and I had no trouble deciphering her words. 'If you don't know what my son wants by now, you'll never know.'

What the fuck was that supposed to mean?

"I have to go now. Tell Blair I'll call him tomorrow night to wish him a happy Chanukah. You are aware that tomorrow is the first night of Chanukah?"

"Sure, Naomi." I was now.

"Hmph. Well, goodbye."

"Uh... yeah. Bye." Why had I expected any help from her? I hung up the phone and looked around the bullpen. Everyone had left for the day. I might as well go home too.

****

"Hi, Chief." I tossed my keys into the basket by the door and removed my jacket.

"Hey! Hi, Jim." Blair was sitting on the sofa, a leg curled under him and a magazine opened on his lap. He flushed and closed it.

Was he reading Playboy and getting ready to jerk off? I could have sniffed the air discreetly to see if I could detect the scent of arousal, but I didn't.

Blair didn't even realize I was able to do that. Once I'd discovered that particular ability, I'd made sure I didn't abuse it. The loft wasn't that huge, and the least I could do was give my friend that measure of privacy.

He set the magazine aside and got to his feet. "I... uh... It was my turn to make dinner tonight, but I was running late... "

"Anything is good, Chief. As long as it isn't an algae shake."

"No shakes, Jim. I stopped at Wonder Burger and picked us up some Big Boys and a couple of orders of cheese-y fries."

I went to him and shook him gently. "Who are you, and what have you done with my roommate?" I loved when I had a legitimate excuse to put my hands on him.

"C'mon, man. I'm not that bad." He raised his hand to brush the hair out of his eyes, but it was no longer there. It had been cut when he'd entered the Academy. His smile was rueful for a moment, and he sighed.

I missed the hair too, but after all my bitching about it clogging the drain in the shower, which I hadn't really meant, I couldn't tell Blair how much I missed it.

"Besides, someone's got to make sure you eat half-way healthy."

"And you got elected? Thanks, Chief. I really do appreciate it." Before he'd come to stay with me, no one, not even my ex-wife, had cared if I mainlined cholesterol or overdosed on sugar. I ragged him about it, but I liked it. I rubbed his shoulder and shot a quick glance across the room at the magazine. It wasn't a magazine, it was a catalogue. The wheels began turning. Maybe what he wanted for Christmas was in it. "Do I have time for a shower?"

"Sure, as long as you make it a quick one. I'll set the table."

"Oh, by the way, Chief, Naomi said she was going to call you tomorrow for Chanukah."

"Why were you talking to my mother, Jim?" Blair was aware of how things were between Naomi and me - I saw her as self-absorbed and irresponsible, doing as she chose and leaving everyone else to clean up the mess she left behind. She saw me as the reason her son would have 'Detective' in front of his name instead of having 'PhD' after it. We... tolerated... each other for his sake.

"Uh... " Shit. I hadn't thought of an excuse. All I knew was that if his mother called the next evening and I hadn't told him, she'd tolerate me even less than she did now. I pulled the turtleneck sweater over my head, mumbling something, and hurried toward the bathroom and hoped he'd let it go.

When I came back out, I was wearing a towel. Blair opened his mouth, no doubt ready to pick up the conversation where it had been left off, but his eyes took on a glazed expression, and he shut his mouth.

I wanted to hope that it was the sight of me in the towel that had rendered him speechless, but I was a realist, and I'd long ago woken up and smelled the coffee. Jim Ellison was a good man to have for a friend, maybe none better, but when it came to being a lover... not so good.

As for why Blair's eyes had suddenly glazed over... I sighed. Who knew? Maybe he'd just taken a left turn into the Sandburg Zone.

A glance across at the sofa told me the catalogue was gone. Well, I was a detective as well as a sentinel. It shouldn't be a problem for me to discover where it was.

I trotted up the stairs, changed, and came back down, ready to make some headway into those Wonder Burgers.

****

Saturday dawned bright and cold, although dry for a change. Blair had to bring his Volvo in for a tune-up, and I had the loft to myself. A quick recon - living room, dining room, kitchen, balcony - didn't turn up the catalogue, so that left his room.

I felt a little guilty for snooping around in it, but a guy had to do what a guy had to do.

I picked up his pillow, to look under it, and held it to my nose and inhaled my roommate's unique scent. That resulted in an instant hard-on. I wanted to keep breathing in that combination of shampoo and conditioner - stuff he used now because he knew it wouldn't affect my senses - and Blair, but I had to be careful. I was on a mission, and I could zone from that scent alone. I gave the bulge behind my fly a couple of quick, hard rubs with my palm, then replaced the pillow and continued my search.

It didn't take me long to find the catalogue - it was lying on his dresser in plain sight after all. I'd just used the possibility that it might be hiding under his pillow as an excuse to fondle the pillow.

I was so ashamed.

I met my eyes in the mirror above Blair's dresser. "No, you're not."

I flipped through the pages of the catalogue until one in particular caught my eye. The page hadn't been folded or dog-eared, but I could tell this was the page Blair had looked at the most often.

What I didn't understand was why he wanted a wall hanging of a black panther. That was my spirit animal. It would have made more sense if it had been a wolf, since that was his spirit animal, but hey, if that was what he liked...

And then I remembered Naomi's words: If you don't know what my son wants by now, you'll never know, and the light went on. Blair wanted me, but since I'd done such a good job of fooling the world into thinking I was straight, he didn't think he could have me. He was willing to settle for something that represented me in his bedroom.

My eyes widened as I saw the price. These things were custom made by artisans in Peru and took six months to create. He'd never be able to afford it, and even if he could, it wouldn't be done for Christmas.

Besides, it was just a piece of cloth, albeit a gorgeous one. It couldn't hold him.

I, on the other hand, could.

I knew what I was giving Blair for Christmas.

****

Things were slow in Cascade, crime-wise, for a change, and we had plenty of time to decorate the loft. We went to one of those lots that sell Christmas trees and found one that was tall and full and perfect. We loaded it into my truck, wrestled it up the stairs, since it was too big to fit in the elevator, even if the elevator was working, and then set it in the stand in front of the doors that led onto the balcony, made sure it had water, and began the task of decorating it.

Blair went to get a chair.

"What's that for, Chief? You gonna sit and give directions while I do all the work?"

"No, smart guy. I'm gonna climb on it and put the star on the top of the tree." He held up a frosted glass tree topper. It was shaped like a snowflake.

I didn't remember it from the year before. "That's new."

"Yeah." He blushed. "I thought we could use something new. Do you... do you like it?"

"I do. You don't need the chair though. I'll give you a boost."

Before he could object, I stooped and got my arms around his knees, then hoisted him up.

"Whoa! Okay, big guy, just don't drop me!"

"Trust me, b... Blair."

He looked down and grinned into my eyes. If he leaned down a bit more, his lips would be close enough to mine to kiss. Of course, he didn't lean down, but if he knew how I felt about him, if he knew that I knew how he felt about me...

"If I didn't, I wouldn't still be living here."

Huh? Oh, yeah, the trust thing.

"Now maneuver just a bit to the right, okay?"

I did as he suggested, and he leaned forward. I slid my palm up his thigh to his hip. If I spread my fingers out, my little finger would be able to brush against his fly and what was behind it.

"Uh... Jim?"

"Just making sure you don't go head first into the tree, Chief." I didn't spread my fingers out, but from the corner of my eye, I could see the front of his jeans was no longer smooth and flat, and I swallowed and licked my lips.

"You're too kind," he muttered, apparently forgetting about my hearing. "Let me down now."

I thought about letting him slide down against my body, letting him feel my erection, but that would spoil his Christmas surprise, so instead I thought of the Arctic, of my ex-wife, of my partner when I'd been in Vice, Jack Pendergrast, naked in the PD showers.

Jack was a great guy, but that did the trick. When I let Blair down, there was no indication that moments before my dick had been hard. I put the chair away and took out strings of lights. The year before I'd picked up a reel that I could wind them around.

"It's a good thing you're so anal, Jim. Otherwise we'd be spending hours untangling these lights."

"Anal? Me?"

"Face it, big guy. Who else do you know who color-codes the ornaments?"

I ruffled his hair. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

"Nah. I... " He paused, and I wondered what he'd been about to say. I love you just the way you are? Of course, he didn't say that.

Well, he didn't know that I loved him back, so I could understand how hesitant he'd be to tell me. I thought impatiently of the days remaining until Christmas, when I could show him that his feelings were returned.

"Y'know, Jim, we're gonna have to decorate the top of the tree."

"Yeah?"

"So I'm still gonna need the chair. Unless you want to get the ladder?"

"No need to make a trip down to the basement. Get the first string and lets get started." I'd be holding him again, a little slice of heaven, a little slice of hell, but he'd be in my arms.

****

The tree looked beautiful, the most beautiful one we'd had. The snowflake tree topper with its dozen lights scattered around it sparkled and shimmered. The lights were up and twinkling, the colorful garlands wound in and out of the branches and draped above the floor, and the ornaments were hung.

It was worth the constant state of arousal I'd been in.

****

Finally, it was Christmas Eve. I'd had a grin on my face almost all day, and fortunately everyone put it down to the successful conclusion to the kind of case we hated the most - a kid missing from a mall. His parents blamed each other, the father saying the mother shouldn't have been more interested in the clothes in the store windows, and the mother saying the father should have kept his eyes on his son instead of the women he'd been ogling. The kid had gotten bored and walked to his grandparents' house, where we'd found him, and both parents appeared chastened.

"Do you think they've learned their lesson, Jim?" Blair asked as we drove home.

"Until the next time." I reached across the seat and squeezed his thigh.

"I was afraid you'd say that."

"Do you think I'm being pessimistic?" I didn't want him to see me that way.

"No, unfortunately, I think you're right. Well, at least they won't have a miserable Christmas Eve."

"That's true. And neither will we."

"You never did tell me what we were doing for dinner, Jim."

"I picked up a couple of porterhouse steaks. I thought we could have them with baked potatoes and... "

"A spinach salad?"

"Sure, Chief." I wanted his dick in my mouth. I wouldn't hesitate at some leafy green vegetables.

"Sounds good. And for dessert?"

Me! Fortunately, that didn't come out of my mouth. "There's a Mrs. Smith's pie in the freezer with our names on it."

"Cool."

I parked the truck, and we got out and crossed the street. My arm was around his shoulders, and his was around my waist.

"Looks like we're gonna get a white Christmas this year." I looked up into the darkening sky. A light dusting of snow had begun falling earlier in the day. "I love it when it snows this time of year."

"I always thought that was a myth."

"A white Christmas? How come, Chief?" We entered 852, and for a change, the elevator was working.

"Until I went away to college, I'd never experienced one. That year, though... I was so giddy my roommate thought I'd got into his stash of pot."

"Not liquor?"

"No."

"You were about eighteen then?"

He shook his head. "Sixteen, Jim. I loved being on my own. Don't get me wrong, Naomi was a good mom... " Well, I wasn't going to argue that with him, not on Christmas Eve. "... but she wasn't much for holidays. I bought myself a little plastic tree. It was about a foot high and really cheap, but it came with the lights and ornaments already on it. I also bought myself a present for Santa to put under it." The expression on his face told me this memory was a happy one.

"You never said anything about that."

"I didn't want you to know how pathetic I was."

"Never pathetic, Chief." I cleared my throat. "What did Santa give you?"

"What does any sixteen-year-old ask for?" His smile was faint. We exited the elevator, walked to the door of 307, and I unlocked it.

"Someone to lose his cherry to?"

Blair's blue eyes danced with laughter. "Did you really, Jim?"

"What can I tell you? I was a horny little bastard."

"Well, I didn't have the chutzpah to ask Santa for that. What I really wanted was Burton's translation of the Kama Sutra, but I was too embarrassed to ask the woman behind the counter for it. She looked like someone's granny."

"So what did 'Santa' bring you?"

"The Thousand Nights and a Night. I never regretted it. It was an annotated copy." He hung up his jacket. "I think I'll shower before we eat, okay?"

"Sure, Chief." Abruptly I had a thought that made me cold. It hadn't occurred to me... "I should have asked, Blair. Are you... Do you have a date?"

"Nah. I thought I'd stay home tonight. Uh... what about you, Jim?"

"No, no date." Phew. "Okay. Go shower. I'll put the wine in the fridge and get the potatoes started, and when you're done, I'll shower myself." I held up a hand. "And I remember. It doesn't need to be in the fridge that long."

"There's hope for you yet." Blair grinned as I flipped him off. He went into his room under the stairs to lay out clean clothes, then crossed to the bathroom and closed the door.

I preheated the oven, turned on the tree lights, and got a fire going in the wood stove, then scrubbed the potatoes and put them in the oven.

My hands were trembling a bit as I put the wine in the fridge. We were having a red wine with the steak, a Montecillo Gran Reserva Rioja 1990 that Rafe had brought back from his vacation to that region in Spain. 'It cost as much to ship one case as a half dozen, so what the hell.' And he'd given everyone in Major Crimes a bottle. Since it didn't have to be decanted, we could open it as soon as we were ready to sit down.

Hmmm. I'd need an excuse to get Blair out of the apartment until I could get his present ready. There were about six bottles of beer in fridge. I stuck all of them under the sink behind the Comet and Palmolive, the glass vase, sponges, and Drano.

That left the dessert wine my secret Santa had given me, and the Jack Daniels and the Dewars, and I hid those as well, just in case Blair decided he was willing to go for something stronger than wine.

Now I'd have a perfectly reasonable reason for sending him out on Christmas Eve.

I was a devious so-and-so.

"It's all yours, Jim." Blair came out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist, and I almost zoned following the treasure trail that disappeared beneath it. He was rubbing another towel over his hair. I could see he'd shaved. "Hey! You started a fire! That's so cool!"

"I picked up some chestnuts, and I thought it would be fun to roast them after dinner."

"We never did that before."

"Well, I thought it was about time we did." My words came out more curt than I'd intended.

"Easy, big guy. I like the idea!"

"Sorry, Chief." My nerves were getting the better of me. "I... uh... I guess I still can't believe we caught a break on that last case."

"Yeah. And Simon actually gave us tomorrow off!"

"Yeah."

"Well, I'll get changed and then pour myself a glass of wine. You want me to pour one for you too?"

"Sure. I'll just go take my shower now."

"Okay, Jim."

After shaving, I showered carefully, washing all the nooks and crannies. Not to say that Blair would be into rimming, but it always paid to be prepared. Then I went up to the loft and picked out the clothes I was going to wear, a pale blue pullover sweater with a rolled collar, black jeans I had to inhale deeply to fasten, white socks. I hesitated over shorts, then decided against them. They'd leave a line under the jeans.

It had been a long time since I'd had a male partner, back before that operation in Peru. I couldn't say 'lover,' because back then it was mostly about finding relief, but with Blair...

I took a breath to steady myself, and went downstairs.

I was afraid I'd be nervous, but everything went as smooth as clockwork. Blair had put together the spinach salad with a dressing that didn't drive my taste buds over the edge, and the steak was the medium rare I knew he preferred.

While I cleared off the table and put the dishes into the sink, he started a pot of coffee and took the Mrs. Smith's from the freezer.

"Hmmm. This will take about forty minutes, Jim. What do you say we have another glass of wine while we're waiting?"

"We've finished it, Chief."

"Oh. Well, how about a beer?"

BINGO!

"Sure, Chief. Sounds like a plan to me."

He opened the fridge. I didn't have to turn up my hearing to hear him moving things around and then grumbling. "I'd have sworn we had a six-pack in here, Jim. If we've drunk it already and don't remember, we may have a problem!"

"Why don't you make a beer run and pick up another six-pack?"

"No, it's not that important."

Shit.

"But you wanted a beer."

He shrugged. "Like I said, it isn't important."

"Hey! My secret Santa gave me a bottle of May wine!"

"Awesome! That'll do!" He went to the cabinet where we kept the wine and liquor. "Dammit! There's nothing in here! Not even that bottle of Jack Daniels you bought when I had that really bad cold. We don't have anything! Okay, Jim, now I'm really getting worried about us! We've turned into closet lushes!"

I smothered my laugh. "Chief, since it's Christmas and all, why don't you run down to the store and get some eggnog?" I held my breath, wondering if he'd come up with another objection.

"Okay. I haven't had eggnog this Season yet. Y'know what? I think I'll see if I can find the ingredients to make Eli Stoddard's famous, knock-you-on-your-ass-so-you-don't-know-if-it's-Christmas-or-New-Year's eggnog."

I blinked. "And you were just worried about us becoming closet lushes?"

"Ah, Jim, it's the holidays!"

"Okay, Chief. Knock yourself out."

"Want to come and keep me company?" He grabbed his jacket and thrust his arms into the sleeves.

"No. I'll just get the place straightened up."

"Okay." He was disappointed, but I couldn't go with him. He'd be happy when he came back and saw why. "I shouldn't be too long." He took his keys and was out the door.

I extended my hearing, making sure he left the building, before I spread a rug I'd bought just for this occasion and some soft pillows in front of the Christmas tree. The cinnamon-y scent of the pie filled the loft, and I lowered the setting on the oven so it wouldn't burn if we got... distracted. As I hoped we would.

Then I went up to the loft and changed the sheets. If things went well...

I stripped off my clothes and put them away, took a length of ribbon and the gift tag I'd written out, and went back downstairs. I turned off all the lights except for the one above the stove, tied the ribbon in a jaunty bow around my dick, and positioned myself on the rug. Knee like so. Foot right there. Hand placed suggestively on my groin...

Okay. Perfect.

Now all that was needed was for my guide to return. I put a sexy smile on my lips and waited.

And waited.

And waited. The smile had been replaced with a scowl. Where the fuck was he?

Finally I heard the Volvo pull into its parking spot across the street, and I traced his progress from the car to the building, to the elevator, to the third floor.

Panic ripped through me when I heard him talking to someone outside the door. Had I concentrated on him so much that I'd missed the fact that he wasn't alone? Was he bringing someone into the loft with him? I'd look like such a fool, lying here on the rug, stark naked and with a bow around my dick. Not to mention outing the both of us.

Before I could scramble for cover, I realized it was just Mrs. Santucci from across the hall wishing him a Merry Christmas, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Okay, everything was back on track.

Blair's key was in the lock. I fluffed the bow and put the smile back on my face.

"Sorry it took a while, Jim. I had to... Why are the lights off? Did you get tired of waiting and go to bed without me?"

"I'd never do that, Chief."

He jumped and nearly dropped the bag in his arms. "Jeez, you scared me!" He laughed a little, put the bag down on the table, and removed his jacket. "Where are... " I could see his eyes widen as he spotted me. "Holy shit!"

Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for. "Merry Christmas, Chief."

"Holy shit!"

"You said that already."

"Jim! I don't know what to say! Is someone coming over? Do you want me to split?"

"No, Einstein. No one is coming over, and I don't want you to split. Jeez. For a guy who's supposed to be so smart, you're really slow on the uptake."

His eyes lit up. "Is... is this for me?"

In spite of not wanting to invade his privacy, I raised the dial on my sense of smell, and the scent of his arousal filled my nostrils. Thank you, god.

"Why don't you read the tag?" I'd managed to fasten it to the end of the ribbon.

"'To Blair, from Santa, with love.' Oh, Jim!"

"I... I hope it's something that you'd ask Santa for."

"Oh, boy, would I?! How did you know?" He stripped off his shirt and undershirt, toed off his half boots, and hopped from foot to foot as he removed his socks. "I've been wanting you forever!"

"You have?"

"I never thought you'd want me back." He sank to his knees beside me, his hands going to the button of his fly. "I wasn't even sure if you swung that way. Oh, I thought that maybe you might have had a couple of bi experiences when you were in the military - you know, that closed society thing - but I never... " He stopped short. "How did you know?" I could almost see the wheels begin turning. "You talked to Naomi at the beginning of the month. Did my big-mouth mother say something?"

"Say what, Chief?"

"Did she tell you I've been in love with you since... "

He loved me! My dick gave a little twitch. "I asked her what you wanted for Christmas, and she said if I didn't know by now, I never would."

"What I wanted for Christmas? Fuck."

"Don't go blaming her. She didn't know I'd heard."

"Is this a pity fuck?" He was pale in the light of the tree lights. "Because if it is... "

"It's not. I've loved you for a long time, Blair." I wrapped a hand around his neck and pulled him into our first kiss. He kept his mouth stubbornly closed, so I didn't push it. I pressed tiny kisses against his lips, along his cheekbones, over his eyelids, to the tip of his nose.

"Jim... "

And that gave me the in I was waiting for. I slid my tongue into his mouth, licked at his tongue, then sealed my lips over his. As much as I wanted to ravage his mouth, I kept the kiss gentle.

He was breathing heavily through his nose by the time he drew back. His eyes slitted open. "So you love me?"

"Yes."

"And you're my Christmas present?"

"And your Christmas always, Chief. This is a non-returnable gift."

"Jim!" He went into my arms.

"You're a little over-dressed, babe."

He laughed, finished unbuttoning his jeans, and skinned out of them. "What about you, Jim?" He pointed toward the bow.

"It's your gift, Chief."

I was gratified by the way his fingers trembled as he undid the red ribbon. He set it aside, then pushed me back onto the rug and covered me like a blanket.

"I can't... I want... Oh, god, Jim!"

I spread my legs, and he settled himself between them, his dick sliding against mine. He began humping against me, the copious amounts of precome we were both oozing easing the path.

We panted and groaned into each other's mouths, licked and bit and drove at each other, and it didn't take long before we both erupted, streamers of come sealing us together.

"We're as bad as a couple of kids." I tipped him off me and admired his pecs and abs before I began licking him clean.

"At least we don't have to worry about daddy sending one of us home." He gave a voluptuous sigh. "That feels good."

"Yeah. Next time we'll make it last longer."

"A lot longer. My turn." He went to work on my torso, and I shivered and purred in pleasure. "Like that, do you, big guy?" he murmured against a nipple. "Jim, I'd... would you let me fuck you?"

"I'm yours, babe." I arched into his touch. "You can do whatever you like to me. Well, except for raunch. Golden showers and scat always skeeved me."

"That won't be a problem." He nuzzled the side of my neck. "I'm sorry. I got carried away before. I gave you a hickey."

"Marking me as yours? Works for me, Chief." I started to kiss him, but he pulled away from me. "Hey, wait a minute! Where are you going?"

"I want to give you your present." He went into his bedroom and returned almost immediately with a large, square box. "Merry Christmas, Jim. It's not as amazing as the gift you just gave me, but... Well, I hope you like it."

I tugged off the ribbon, removed the wrapping paper, and lifted off the lid. The contents were hidden by sheets of tissue paper. I parted them, took out the soft, plush fabric, and unfolded it.

"But... it's the wall hanging!"

"You knew?"

"I... " I felt a blush rise up from mid-torso. "I peeked at the catalogue. I thought you wanted the panther. I couldn't understand it, because the wolf is your animal spirit. And then I remembered what your mother had said and put two and two together, and realized you wanted me. I decided to give you the real thing."

"And you did. Jim." He nuzzled the side of my throat, and I purred once more. "Do you like it?"

"Yes. But it's so expensive." I stroked the sleek side of the panther.

"Why do you think I took that side job tutoring Daryl?"

"Ah, babe. You're amazing, you know that." I noticed a reddish-brown band around the panther's throat and ran my fingers over it. "What's this? I don't remember seeing this in catalogue." There was something about the texture...

"Oh. I didn't think you'd know, and I wanted you to have something that was both of us." His hand went to his head. "When I had to get my hair cut for the Academy, I couldn't bear to see it thrown out, so I asked the barber to let me have it."

"The band is your hair, collaring the panther, Chief."

"Yeah."

"You had this planned this since back then?"

He blushed and nodded. "I told them what I wanted, and asked if the weaver could do it."

"Obviously he or she could."

"I... I knew I'd never have the chance to be in your bedroom, and ... Are you... are you mad at me, Jim?"

"No way, Chief. What do you say we take this up to our room and see how the wall hanging looks there?"

"Our room, Jim?"

"Our room, babe."

****

So we spent the night in bed.

Oh, we turned off the oven, banked the fire in the wood stove, and put the stuff for the eggnog in the fridge, but we were two guys on a mission, and it didn't take very long.

In the morning when we woke, we lay on the bed in each other's arms, covered with love bites and come, blissfully sated and I slightly sore.

"Merry Christmas, Chief."

"Merry Christmas, Jim."

And across from the bed, hanging from the wall, the black panther looked down on us.

~End~

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Acknowledgements: Thank you to KAM for the lovely cover art, and to K-9 for the awesome interiors. And as always, thank you to Gail for the beta.