Making the Season Better
Author's Note: Thanks to the folks over at SenBetas - Andi, Sheila, Pam, WoD, and Carol - for the quick beta.
Note: Assumes that Sentinel Too, Part Two took place immediately following Sentinel Too, Part One (i.e. around May-June 1998). Further assumes that the remaining fourth season episodes took place over the rest of the year with the exception of TsbyBS, which hasn't happened.
Note 2: For the curious, English ivy (Hedera helix) is indeed poisonous. Ingestion can cause illness (vomiting, diarrhea, etc.), coma, or even death in humans and animals. Contact with the sap (or, in very sensitive individuals, the leaves) can cause severe dermatitis, up to and including weeping lesions and blisters.
Dammit. The Volvo was parked in its usual spot. Hadn't Sandburg said that he was going to some grad student holiday party tonight?
Jim groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose, headache worsening as his hopes for a blissfully solitary evening faded. It wasn't so much a matter of Sandburg being home - he usually enjoyed his friend's company - as it was a matter of Sandburg being home and in the holiday spirit. That, he could definitely live without. He'd already experienced enough "holiday spirit" to last him for the next ten years.
If he had to listen to just one more rendition of "I Have a Little Dreidel" or "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" or "The Chipmunk Christmas Song" or, god forbid, Mannheim Steamroller's rendition of "Carol of the Bells"... If he had to smell just one more cinnamon candle or incense stick, see one more string of maniacally blinking lights, or get within ten feet of one more evergreen or poinsettia... Well, he wouldn't be held responsible for his actions. There was only so much one poor, overloaded Sentinel could take. Especially when his Guide had been off doing unspecified end-of-semester - *stuff* - at the university for the past week while he'd been stuck prowling Cascade's shopping malls, trying to catch a particularly effective and organized gang of shoplifters.
The situation couldn't be helped; even the master of obfuscation himself couldn't trade off *all* of his duties at Rainier, and, once the Mayor's cousin's jewellery store was hit, Chief of Police Warren had specifically instructed Simon to assign the twice-running "Officer of the Year" to the shoplifting case. But that didn't change the fact that Jim had to spend his whole shift keeping his senses firmly dialled down to avoid zoning or being overwhelmed due to the seasonal excesses. All he wanted to do at the end of the day was come home to a quiet, darkened loft and relax in solitary splendour.
Not that he'd actually succeeded so far.
Tuesday, he'd barely gotten home in time to get called out again to interview the latest victims of the shoplifting gang. Wednesday afternoon and evening had been spent in Cascade General's Emergency Room when he'd had an extremely nasty allergic reaction to *something* that he'd come in contact with during the day; Thursday evening was lost to Sandburg guiding him through his sense-memories to trace the reaction back to contact with English ivy that had been used to decorate the mall he'd been in.
As for Monday evening, it had fallen victim to Blair's energetic insistence on decorating the loft for the holidays. Last year, he'd enjoyed the whole holiday experience just as much as Sandburg; he'd gotten a bigger kick out of Sandburg's avid enjoyment of the seasonal rituals than from the rituals themselves. This year...
Well, this year, he'd been - somewhat less than enthusiastic - but had bitten his tongue, hard, rather than squelch Blair's enthusiasm.
Blair was just beginning to treat the loft like his home again, just starting to bounce back physically and emotionally from the god-awful mess their friendship and partnership had been through in recent months; Jim certainly wasn't about to say or do anything to put those improvements in jeopardy. If that meant suffering through an excess of holiday spirit in his territory, he'd just have to grit his teeth and bear it.
Even if one of his greatest Christmas wishes was for a holiday from the holiday season. With a weary sigh, Jim reluctantly climbed out of the truck. "Suck it up, soldier," he muttered under his breath as he headed into 852 and started up the stairs. If he could just make it through the next couple of hours without doing a Scrooge impersonation, maybe he could get away with pleading exhaustion and going to bed early.
Pausing outside the loft door, Jim checked to make sure that everything was firmly dialled down. He braced himself for the expected sensory assault and opened the door, calling, "Hey Chief, you home? I thought..." He stopped in mid-sentence as the difference between the loft's expected atmosphere and its actual one sank in.
The strongly-scented pine garland was gone from his bedroom railing, as were the sickeningly-pungent cinnamon candles that had adorned the table. The Frasier fir was now outside on the balcony, and the tree's multi-coloured chaser lights were gone, replaced by plain white minis. Even the sounds drifting from the stereo were different from the previous night; the soft, mellow tones of woodwinds and quiet ripples of strings met his ears instead of the obnoxious jangle of sleighbells and sharp sounds of percussion.
"Oh, hey Jim." Blair emerged from his room, dressed in casual clothes and clearly not planning on an evening out. "Another rough day? You look like you've got a headache. How's the rash? Touch giving you any trouble? What about smell; you sounded kind of..."
Shaking his head in bemusement, Jim interrupted, "Breathe, Sandburg. The rash is fine as long as I keep touch turned way down. But what's with all this..." He waved vaguely towards the alterations in the decorations, taking in the stereo along the way.
"Uh, well, like I started to say, you sounded kind of stuffed up this morning. I wouldn't have thought much of it - hey, 'tis the season for colds, man - but after you breaking out in itchy, oozing welts from contact with a few ivy leaves, I figured better safe than sorry, right? The tree's fine on the balcony; we can still see it but the smell shouldn't bother you. I used a little of the garland out there too; Lori down in 205 - you know, single mom, works at the bakery downstairs? - anyway, she was happy to take the stuff I didn't use.
"As for the rest..." Blair grimaced apologetically, "Well, let's just say I took another look at the loft from the point of view of a Sentinel who'd spent all day in a shopping mall during the holiday season, and all I can say is... Geeze, some Guide *I* am. Sorry, man, you shoulda *said* something."
Jim felt obliged to offer a token protest. "You didn't have to do all this, Chief. I'd have coped." He wouldn't have liked it, but he'd have coped. Gratefully, he relaxed his tight control over his senses. The dials spun up, but not out of control. Without a flood of sensory input to overwhelm them - and with his Guide nearby to ground them - his senses settled at a heightened but still comfortable level.
Well, except for touch. That, he kept low. The dials might not be able to make the rash go away but they could make it much more bearable.
"Jim, man, you shouldn't have to 'cope' in your own home!" Blair gave his arm an admonitory swat. "Geeze, Ellison, I'm supposed to help make things better, not give you more shit to deal with."
Arm stinging from the smack, Jim pulled Blair into a retaliatory noogie, thoroughly mussing his hair and triggering a volley of half-laughing curses. God, it felt good to have this level of easy familiarity back in their relationship again. After a few moments of playful tussling, Jim released him, grinning broadly at the wildly disarrayed curls.
Blair tried to glare at Jim, but the amused grin tugging at his lips ruined the effect. "Geeze, spend the afternoon slaving away and what thanks do I get?" he mock-grumbled under his breath as he turned towards the kitchen. "Listen, I'm just going to put the steaks in so you've got time for a quick shower if you want..."
Jim bounded up the stairs to grab a change of clothes. Feeling very content and at ease, in marked contrast to how he'd felt when he first stepped through the loft's door, he impulsively leaned over the railing.
"Yeah, Jim?" came the semi-distracted response.
"You do make things better."
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