Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Holiday stories

Summary: Christmas 1998 humor piece: the gang gets an unusual assignment.

Here's a little Christmas gift for all my fellow TS fen and friends -- my small way of thanking everyone who wrote, phoned, and faxed and helped get my favorite TV show renewed. This Christmas is much merrier knowing TS will return in only a few weeks.

Warning: This ain't yer typical weepy, sentimental Christmas story (consider the source), although a few moments may give you warm fuzzies. As a budding pediatrician and TS humor fanatic, what kind of story did you expect me to write? <g> Enjoy!

Oh, by popular demand, I included a brief reappearance by a boy from one of my previous TS fics, Through a Window, Darkly, just so you don't get confused when Jim and Blair act like they already know the kid.

Additional public service announcement: By the order of my wonderful and safety-minded beta, Becky (dunno why -- maybe she's just paranoid), please, No eating or drinking while reading this story. For those of you who insist on it, at least have someone nearby trained in the Heimlich maneuver should you happen to aspirate.

The Sentinel: Men in Green Tights
by Robyn
December 1998

Laughter, mostly guffaws, filled the loft's warm living room, softly lit by the table lamps and twinkling multi-colored lights from the glass-ball adorned piney-smelling Christmas tree in the corner. Outside, a rare nocturnal dusting of snow fell lightly, barely visible through the balcony windows backlit by blinking city lights.

Amidst the animated voices of friends talking, Blair set down the pitcher of hot cider after pouring everybody a round -- Simon occupying the yellow vinyl arm chair, Rafe and Brown seated on the smaller love seat, and Joel having pulled up one of the dinner table chairs. The anthropologist plopped down on the blue couch between his partner, Jim Ellison, and Megan Conner. For once, both men were unusually quiet, seeing as they were currently the brunt of a joke -- well, a story, actually, being told by the rest of the crowd for Simon's benefit. By the sound of things, his vigorous chuckling testified that the captain was thoroughly enjoying the biggest laugh he'd had in a long time. Though they didn't know it, the detective and his partner were both thinking the same thing at the moment -- that Rafe, Brown, Joel, Megan, and Simon were having a little too much fun at their expense.

I think we gave them a little too much egg nog, thought Sandburg ruefully.

We're gonna get them -- all of them -- for this later, Ellison grumbled silently to himself.

*************************

~ The day before ~

"Sandburg! Ellison! In my office! NOW!" Captain Banks' booming voice rang throughout the bullpen, easily heard over the constant dull roar that filled the precinct.

Jim's head jerked up from looking at his computer screen, and Blair immediately jumped to attention from his relaxed, leaned-back-in-the-chair-with-feet-on-Jim's-desk position, somehow managing not to fall out of the chair in the process. Something about the captain's voice did that to a person.

The two men presented themselves at Simon's office door in a few seconds, wondering what was up this time. Neither of them had done anything recently to deserve a reprimand -- that they knew of, anyway. As a matter of fact, the case load was rather low at the moment, and they'd just finished the paperwork on the grand theft auto ring a couple hours earlier. It was just after 2 pm and only a few hours more before their shift would end.

"Yes, sir? What can we do for you?" Jim spoke first. He wasn't worried; it was probably just one of those days for the harried captain of Major Crimes.

A concerned look had immediately covered Blair's face, however. Simon was definitely not well. A few beads of sweat stood out on the big man's forehead, and a cigar lay uncut, tossed to one side of his desk, quite out of character for the captain. His glasses also lay on the desk as he rubbed his eyes with one hand, and the top of his band-collared dress shirt was unbuttoned. The captain looked decidedly uncomfortable, and he propped his forehead up with one hand and an elbow on the desk. "Simon -- are you okay?" questioned Sandburg. "With all due respect, man, you look awful. Greenish, in fact."

Simon rolled his eyes and let out a big sigh. "Thank you for the information, Sandburg. So helpful," he answered sarcastically, throwing in an insincere smile. "Remind me to never get Chinese take-out from a place called The Green Pagoda." As if to prove his point, suddenly his eyes widened and his facial expression changed for the worse as the captain grabbed for the trash can beside his desk in an unintentional display which showed Jim and Blair exactly what he was talking about.

"You should go home, sir," Jim said when his boss slumped back into his chair. "It's a slow day. We've got it covered here."

"Yeah, Simon. Jim's right. What you need is a nice warm bed and a good nap. Some Pepto Bismol wouldn't hurt, either," added Blair.

"Don't worry, Dr. Sandburg, I'm outta here as soon as I take care of one last thing," Simon answered wearily, wiping his forehead again.

"Anything we can help you with, sir?" asked Jim.

"As a matter of fact, yes -- why else do you think I called you two in here? I had a commitment this afternoon and I need you guys to help cover for me."

"Meeting with the brass? No problem. Just go home, Simon." Although committees certainly weren't Ellison's idea of a fun time, it was a small thing to do for someone who so obviously needed to be anywhere but the office.

"Well, not exactly," Simon exhaled tiredly. "It's something a little -- different than your usual duties, but I'm sure you two can handle it."

"What is it?" Blair asked. Jim simply raised an eyebrow.

Simon sighed again, then proceeded to explain. "For the past two years, Major Crimes has been going to the Cascade Children's Hospital to hand out Christmas presents to the kids over there -- you know, the stuff the department staff gets for the kids' names on the giving tree in the lobby. Today's the day -- we're scheduled to be there at 2:30. I was gonna go, but now --" Simon lurched to the side again, his intestines again displaying their displeasure for Chinese take-out.

"No problem, Simon. Hey Jim, that'll be fun!" Blair bounced, poking his partner in the ribs with an elbow.

"Sure, sir, we can do that," Jim hurried to agree. Seeing Simon like this made him uncomfortable, and he just wanted the man to go home and get better. He was relieved when Simon finally stopped retching and spoke hoarsely.

"Good. I was supposed to be Santa, so one of you will have to do it. I'll let you choose. Don't worry about the presents. Conner, Rafe, Brown, and Taggert are gonna take the gifts along and help you hand them out to the right kids."

The two men stared silently, disbelievingly, looking as though their captain had just grown horns or antennae.

Ellison was the first to break the silence. "Did you say one of us has to be Santa?" the taller man said quietly.

Simon nodded. "The other one of you can help the rest of the gang hand out presents as an elf."

All at once, the two partners erupted like previously dormant volcanoes.

"What do you mean Santa?"

"Why can't Joel or Brown or Rafe do it?"

"You don't expect me to dress up, do you?"

"Sandburg's better with kids. He should do it!"

"Do you know how a Santa suit designed to fit Simon would look on me? I don't think so." Blair poked a finger into Jim's chest.

"You wouldn't need to wear a wig. We could just dump some flour on your hair," Jim retorted.

"In your dreams! Simon, you tell him."

"HEY!" Simon yelled. This time the windows of his office actually rattled.

"Look. I'm gonna say this once and once only. To answer your question, Sandburg, Joel did it last year, and I'm not taking the chance that Rafe and Brown might do their Hans and Franz impersonations from the department talent show in front of impressionable young children. Besides, I owe them one and they both were quite sure that you two would do a much better job anyway. On top of the stomach flu, you guys are giving me a headache. You figure it out. I'm not in the mood today, if you couldn't tell."

"Sorry, sir," the two men said rather meekly.

"Okay, fine," said Blair, going into his problem-solving mode and starting to walk in a small circle in Simon's office like he often did when he was thinking. "How 'bout this, Jim. We'll split it. You be Santa half the time, and I'll do it the other half of the time."

Jim opened his mouth to say something, but Blair stopped him with a hand. "Ah-ah-ah. No more loft cleaning deals. No more truck washing deals. Got it?"

Jim shut his mouth.

"It does have the ring of fairness to it, Jim," Simon offered.

"Thank you, sir," said Blair, flashing the captain a smile. "So what do you say, partner?" The younger man stuck out his hand.

Jim paused. He couldn't think of a way to get out of this one (nor an argument against Blair's compromise) without looking like a total Scrooge -- something he'd been accused of in the past, but that was before he'd had a change of heart thanks to a certain anthropologist coming into his life. Finally, he took Blair's hand and shook it, meeting his eyes. "Deal."

Simon smiled wearily again, relieved that another department crisis had been solved. He rose from his desk, tottering a bit. "Don't worry about me, I'll be okay," he assured the two men as they shot concerned looks in his direction. "Rhonda graciously offered to give me a ride home." Grabbing his long trench coat, he ushered them out of his office and turned out the lights. "Now get going. Everybody's waiting for you in the garage -- you guys can ride over in the van with Conner, just to make sure you don't chicken out on the way over."

"Aw man, you don't think we would do a thing like that?" Blair called over his shoulder.

"C'mon, junior, let's go," said Jim, putting both hands on the younger man's shoulders and pushing him gently out of the bullpen ahead of himself.

Simon shook his head, managing a slight smile as he watched Sandburg and Ellison exit into the hallway.

For the hundredth time Captain Banks was glad he'd given Conner the camera with strict orders to shoot on sight.

*************************

Elegantly dressed in a beige wool blazer and matching trousers, Megan leaned back against the white hospital wall decorated with framed animal paintings and brightly colored tinsel running along just below the ceiling. Idly, she decided she was glad that she didn't have to dress up, even though Renee from Vice had offered to let her wear some short red outfit with fishnet stockings. Megan's fuzzy red hat with white trim shifted forward as she exhaled slowly, her hair fluttering slightly at the breath of air. According to her watch, it had been at least fifteen minutes since Ellison and Sandburg had retreated into the hospital's second floor men's room with the all-important large duffle bag, and it seemed like more. Glancing at the three men also waiting in the hallway with her, she decided that the natives were getting restless. Well, Brown and Rafe to be exact. While Joel sat patiently reading a magazine several feet away in one of the hallway chairs next to the four large laundry bags filled full of wrapped presents and stuffed animals (the commissioner had donated a bunch of teddy bears for the kids whose names hadn't been on the tree), Brown and Rafe were busy teasing and hitting each other with their own red hats. Just when the inspector had started to wonder whether she should crack the door open and tell Jim and Sandy to hurry up, two familiar voices rose loud enough to be heard outside the restroom. She inched a little closer to the door to hear better...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

<jingle-jingle>

(insistently) "C'mon, Jim. I don't care what those ads on TV say -- Santa isn't supposed to look like he works out at a gym!"

(bordering on whining) "Do I really have to wear that, Chief?"

"For the last time, YES! You're gonna need the pillow to cover up those abs of steel. You don't want all those kids poking you with no protection, do you? Think of it as a softer version of kevlar."

<grumbling>

<jingle>

<noise of patting and prodding said pillow into place>

"There. That looks better. Looking like a jolly red couch potato for 30 minutes isn't gonna kill you... OW!"

(low, ultra-controlled voice) "One more asinine couch potato comment from you and -- and --"

(innocently) "And what?"

"And I'll cuff you to that stall over there, right in front of the mirror so you can gaze at yourself until security finds you in here tomorrow morning."

"All right, all right, just chill out, man."

<jingle>

(grumbling) "Nothing could be this humiliating."

"I don't know about that, Jim -- things probably could be worse."

"How? I sure can't think of anything."

"Why don't you practice saying 'Ho-ho' or something."

"Ho. Ho. Ho. Happy now?"

"That was the most insincere ho-ho I have ever heard, man."

"Tough. Sandburg, this wig is gonna drive me nuts! Now I know why I have a short hair cut. I can hear every polyester fiber rustling next to my ears. Do something!"

"Sorry, man, Santa does not have the hair-tucked-behind-the-ears look. Look, Jim, just tune it out... Better? See, I knew you could it. And stop whining while you're at it."

<grumbling>

"Here, lemme fix your hair again --"

<whack!>

"Stoppit, Sandburg! I can get it myself. Every time you touch the mustache it goes crooked, for crying out loud."

"Geez, sorreeeeey! You don't have to be so touchy, man. I was just trying to help."

<more grumbling>

"You sure you don't want any of this makeup glue stuff? It might help."

"That bottle looks like it was discovered in some archeological dig. No way I'm putting that on my face, Chief."

"You got a point there. Never mind, I'll think it'll stay on as long as you don't play with it. Can't ya smile, Jim? At least a fake one?"

<jingle>

(growling) "You can make a man wear the suit but you can't make him smile."

"Oh, brother. Remind me to call you when I need one cranky Santa to go."

<jingle-jingle>

"Okay. I think it's as good as it's gonna get. You ready?"

(growling) "Wrong question, Sandburg."

At long last, the restroom door opened slowly. Joel put down his magazine and stood up, and Rafe and Brown both paused, looking toward the door.

The comical squeaking and ominous clunking of black rubber boots echoed off the tiled restroom floors and walls as a tall red-suited, albeit rather grumpy, Santa Claus was almost shoved out into the hallway. "Stop pushing me! I'm going, I'm going!" growled the former detective. In a vain attempt to preserve what shred of self-respect he had left, an artificially obese Ellison yanked at the bottom of the bright red jacket, adjusted his three inch wide black vinyl belt, and tried hard to look dignified.

It wasn't working.

Megan's hand went to her mouth to hide the smile which was rapidly approaching the giggle stage. She hadn't thought it possible for someone to actually frown visibly with a huge fake beard and mustache covering their mouth, but Ellison had somehow managed to do it with the effect of making the false decorations look even droopier than they already did.

Santa shuffled aside, revealing the shorter man behind him. Dressed totally in green, his tunic a little too long and tights a little too saggy, Blair the Elf (or rather "Head Elf" as his hat indicated) grinned sheepishly, but he was adorable in spite of himself. The jingling they'd been hearing had been coming from his floppy bell-trimmed green satin jester hat and the curly-toed elf slippers. One of the dangling ends of his hat hung inconveniently over one eye, and he kept batting it away.

Brown was the first to lose it, bursting out laughing and joined soon after by Rafe and Joel. The inspector gave up trying to fight her impulses as well, collapsing into loud giggles. She could barely manage to summon enough self-control to reach for the camera, but knew she had to do it quickly before Jim tried to stop her.

<Flash!> The waving elf and frowning Santa were immortalized on film before either could protest.

How they were going to get through the all the wards without howling the entire time -- well, that would qualify as a Christmas miracle in her opinion.

*************************

One tall Santa, one shorter elf, and their gift-toting entourage made their way slowly down the hall in the direction of the first ward. Halfway there, a cheery (overly cheery according to Jim) nurse met up with them, bubbling the whole time about how happy she -- and the whole staff -- and all the children -- were to have them there, thanking them repeatedly and profusely. Jim's mouth remained set in a thin line. This couldn't be over too soon, as far as he was concerned. It wasn't that he had anything against handing out presents to kids who obviously deserved them, but the humiliation -- it was just too much. The detective was so preoccupied with thoughts of self-pity that it took a hard yank on the back of his belt by Blair to startle him into skidding to a halt in front of a heavy-duty red and green plastic wagon parked in the middle of the hall.

"Whoa, there!" Blair was saying in a cheery voice as he squatted down to get closer to the kid's eye level. "You almost ran over Santa with your wagon there, didn't ya, big guy?"

"Shane, looky!" the woman, probably the kid's mom, said. "It's Santa Claus!"

Santa Jim looked down, down, down.

Placidly sucking his thumb, the child seated in the wagon, about one and a half years old, fine wisps of blonde hair topping a perfectly round face, looked up and up and up at the bright red -- person -- standing in front of him. Wide, innocent blue eyes met another pair of piercing ice blue ones. This guy -- whoever it was -- was big. REAL big. And he looked stern -- REAL stern.

<whack>

Jim lurched forward at the unsubtle prompt planted on the back of one of his fuzzy red pant-covered legs.

"Say something!" Blair hissed out of the corner of his mouth.

"Oh! Uh -- ho -- ho?" mumbled Santa uncertainly.

The Head Elf rolled his eyes.

The toddler's eyes widened a little more and his pink lips started to quiver. In a second, his thumb was out of his mouth and it was over. "Bwaaaaaaaaaanghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!..."

"Awww, it's okay, honey. Shh-shh." Immediately the mother scooped the child up into her arms, patting him on the back and whispering soothing noises as she rocked him back and forth. The one quick glance she spared for Jim was meant to be apologetic, but Ellison interpreted it as unimpressed.

"Excuse me," he mumbled, taking off around the corner.

Blair ran after him, his elf shoes jingling. "Jim!"

*************************

"Save your breath, Sandburg," Jim said as the younger man caught up with him. "This is stupid. I can't be Santa -- I'm gonna scar these kids for life. I scare them! I'm not doing this any more."

"Jim, you listen to me!" Blair demanded, grabbing both of the detective's arms to keep him from ripping off the white polyester beard and wig. "Now I know it was bad out there, but it wasn't your fault. Haven't you ever watched those Santas in the malls? No matter how good they are, all of them get a kid that cries every now and then. It's developmental psychology, man -- the kid just has normal stranger anxiety for his age. It's nothing personal. Got it? You were doing great. Jim, look at me!"

The detective grudgingly turned his gaze back to his partner.

"The Jim Ellison I know isn't a quitter, and I'm not letting you start now, got it? Now you only have to hand out the stuff on two floors, then it'll be my turn. Okay?"

Jim nodded, a partial smile tweaking one corner of his mouth in spite of himself. "And don't think I won't forget, either, Jingles."

Blair grinned. Jim was back on the job -- for now at least. The things I have to do to keep Ellison in line... he thought. Seeing Megan peeking around the corner, probably wondering what was going on, he clapped his partner on the back affectionately. "C'mon, the kids are waiting."

Word had spread like wildfire that Santa was in town, and a small group of kids had crowded around the nurse's station in anticipation. The instant Jim and Blair rounded the corner back to the ward, seven or eight hands started pointing their way and excited voices quickly rose to shouting level.

The children swooped down, engulfing the two men like an ocean. The Head Elf's hands flew up automatically as they crowded around, faces shining, voices chattering and laughing.

"What did you bring me, Santa?"

"Did you get my letter about the baseball?"

"Did he remember to bring me a Game Boy?"

"I've been reeeeeeeeeeal good, Santa -- honest!"

Blair glanced up at Jim, whose red coat and pants were being yanked at by what seemed like ten kids. Their blue eyes twinkled at each other. The Head Elf grinned proudly.

Underneath all that fake white stuff, Jim was actually smiling.

*************************

Settled in one of the rocking chairs pulled out from one of the rooms into the tinsel garland-adorned nurse's station, Santa warmly, if not methodically, pulled each kid onto his lap, listened to their request, and handed them the personalized present that the Head Elf (or one of the assistant elves) pulled out of one of the bags. Jim had even quickly caught on to the fact that if he glanced down unobtrusively at the child's plastic arm band, he could find out their name without having to ask.

"I think he's finally got the hang of it," Joel whispered. His voice had an almost awe-struck tone.

"Yeah," agreed Rafe, also staring. "Aside from that one kid who wanted to de-beard and de-wig him back on the 3rd floor, he's done pretty well. Lucky for him, Sandburg was there to pry the kid's hands away."

"If I didn't know better, I'd say he was almost enjoying himself!" said Brown in a pleased tone. "You know what that means, gentlemen," he said, looking meaningfully at Rafe and Joel.

"Aw, c'mon," Rafe grumbled as he and Taggert reached for their wallets and pulled out dollar bills.

"Hey, I'm sorry, man, but you guys didn't think Ellison would even go through with it," grinned Brown as he accepted the money and nudged Rafe in the ribs.

"Yeah," Joel said grudgingly. "The magnitude of Simon's powers never ceases to amaze me. I don't know how the man talked them into it. Must be something you learn in captain school."

"Wait a second!" Brown whispered, moving a few more feet away from the nurse's station and motioning the other men to gather more closely. "I just remembered something guaranteed to make you forget all about that bet you just lost. But there is some danger involved."

"We're cops, man. What are you talking about, H?" questioned Rafe.

"This afternoon just before we left for the hospital, I met up with a bunch of guys from Vice in the break room. Somehow they found out that Simon was gonna get Ellison and Sandburg to do the Santa gig." Brown lowered his voice even more. "They offered to pay us if we could get Cop man and Hairboy into the precinct -- you know, wearing --" he nodded toward the two men.

Joel's eyes widened. "That would be too cruel."

"Would it?" the GQ detective answered, his eyes narrowing.

Brown's eyes danced as he watched his partner's expression. Though relatively rare, the look on Rafe's face was unmistakable -- it was predatory.

Joel shook his head. "Are you guys nuts? Haven't you ever experienced the wrath of Ellison and Sandburg when they're out for revenge? I've seen it happen and it's not pretty."

"I know," said Rafe. "But we do owe them for making fun of our Hans and Franz gig the day after the talent show last week. Remember that, H?"

"Yeah," Brown agreed, his own eyes narrowing as he watched their future victims, still thoroughly occupied with the kids. "Our desks were piled so high with balled up socks we couldn't see over them -- you wanna talk about being cruel, Joel, that was cruel."

"You're forgetting you two brought that upon yourselves. You guys were the ones who decided to do that act in the first place," warned Joel.

"Small detail," shrugged Rafe and Brown.

"Well, how're you gonna do it, anyway? Wait --" Joel held up a hand. "Never mind. I don't want to know. I know NOTHING! Got it?"

"C'mon, Taggert, we could really use your brain on this one," said Brown

"Joel! Could you help me out, please?" Megan called.

Joel flashed her a smile. "I like that woman -- uncanny sense of timing," he remarked. "Don't say I didn't warn you," he muttered to the younger detectives as he left.

Brown shrugged. "We like to live dangerously -- one of those annoying cop habits," he called after Joel. Turning to Rafe, he said, "So how are we gonna pull this off, man?"

Rafe looked thoughtful for a moment, stroking his chin. Then he whapped his partner on the chest lightly, a tell-tale sign of the light bulb going on. "Ellison and Sandburg didn't bring that duffle out of the restroom, you know."

Brown grinned evilly, his mind rapidly processing the information. After all, Jim and Blair would have no one to blame but themselves if the duffle happened to be stolen by some anonymous perp. "I always knew you were a genius, man," he laughed, slapping Rafe on the back.

*************************

"Thanks, Santa!" exclaimed the five-year-old brown-haired boy as he hopped down from the tall man's red lap with a toy truck in hand.

"You take care of that truck, Tyler," Jim called. "Hopefully you'll have better luck with vehicles than I have," he added under his breath.

A snicker escaped the jingling Head Elf before he could suppress it.

Jim leaned back in the chair and sighed tiredly but satisfactorily. It looked like all the kids on this floor -- his last floor, thank goodness -- had been indulged. He had to use his arms to push up from the chair, realizing painfully that several areas of his body had gone numb. The detective also wondered whether someone had slipped lead into the pillow he wore, absently thinking about how he had a new perspective on why pregnant women walked the way they did and got such bad backaches.

"Santa --"one of the nurses spoke, touching his arm. "I know you have other places to go, but could you wait just a few more minutes? We have a three-year-old girl here waiting for a liver transplant and she was so anxious to see Santa. She had to go down to radiology for a test but she should be back here any moment. Keshia'll be so disappointed if she missed you --"

"No problem," Jim answered. He was about to sit back down when he heard little feet padding down the hall at a rapid pace.

"Saaaaanta!" a little African-American girl squealed in delight, her braids bouncing and ends of the white plastic central line catheters dangling outside the top of her little dress as she rounded the corner and sprinted toward the object of her affection.

This time Santa remained amazingly composed under pressure just like the Jim Ellison the Head Elf knew so well. He crouched down and held out his arms as she ran into them, enveloping her in a big hug. Under that tough exterior, he's a natural, thought Blair, grinning as the child planted a kiss on Santa's cheek.

*************************

It took only a couple minutes for the arguing to start, this time in the fifth floor men's restroom. Arms crossed, Megan rolled her eyes, marveling at the inaneness of Jim and Blair's current conversation. Again, she wished she had one of those hand-held tape recorders. The cassette would no doubt have bought a lovely price on the precinct's black market.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"A deal's a deal, Jim. Now gimme those pants."

"Sandburg, I thought you said you were gonna look stupid in a suit five sizes too big for you!"

"That's not the point, Jim, and you know it. I had to be an elf, and now it's your turn. Whatever happened to the 'Don't think I won't forget, Jingles'? Here, hold this!"

<jingle-jingle-jingle>

"This isn't even an elf hat for crying out loud -- it's a jester hat. Don't people know the difference? Elves don't wear these droopy things with bells and tentacles."

<loud sigh> "I don't see a friendly neighborhood haberdashery around here, do you? Next time we'll get you one of those WonderBurger paper hats, okay? Quit being so nitpicky and just wear it."

(incredulously) "You actually think I'm gonna go out there in nothing but a green short-sleeved shirt and tights? I don't know what you've been smoking --"

(calmly) "I've seen you wear less at the gym. It didn't seem to bother you then."

(sputtering) "That's totally different and you know it!

"You were having a hissy-fit earlier when you had to cover up your abs. Just think of it this way -- now you can show those kids what nice quads you can have with a faithful exercise program and decent trainer."

<growling>

"Wait a second. I know what this is about! Frankly, I always thought you were quite comfortable with your sexuality, Jim."

"I AM! It has nothing to do with that!"

"Hmm. I see. Well, then, it must be EGO, eh?"

"No! No -- it's not. These are kids out there -- and -- and -- "

"Yes, Jim?"

"-- and -- I HATE arguing with you, Sandburg! Did I ever tell you that?"

<snicker>

"Don't hate me 'cause I'm -- right."

"Yyyyyyyaaaaaaaagh!"

"I'm not really worried, Jim, if you haven't noticed. Help me with the belt, here, will you?"

<sound of pillow being stuffed into coat>

"And what makes you so sure I'm gonna put on that stupid outfit?"

"Because we shook on it. Man, what did you do to this pillow? It's got a permanent lump in it."

"What are you talking about?"

"Remember? In Simon's office? We shook on it. And you don't go back on your word."

<silence>

"Jim, you really should stop clenching your jaw for once. You're gonna hurt yourself."

"Sandburg."

"Yeah, Jim?"

"You are this close to getting a swirly. THIS close."

"I've always lived on the edge, man -- why else do you think I teamed up with you? Besides -- you wouldn't want to mess up my long flowing white hair, now, would you? Hurry up and put those on before Megan waltzes in here and tells us to get a move on. And you know she'd have no qualms about that."

<grumbling>

(distractedly) "Is my beard lop-sided?"

<jingle-jingle>

(tolerantly) "AND the tights, Jim."

<silence>

"Don't give me that look. A little Spandex never hurt anyone, especially not someone who owns a wet suit for surfing."

<jingle-jingle-jingle>

"Here. The hat goes on your head -- it's not a purse."

<growl> <JINGLE! (sound of hat being yanked away)>

(on the edge of tolerance) "Put the shoes on, Jim. Yes, you have to! Geez, I feel like I'm dressing a little kid. Look at me, man -- just be glad you don't look like some skater dude wearing pants with a crotch ten inches lower than it should be."

<jingle>

<eeeeeeek....> The restroom door's squeak served as a fitting herald for Santa and the Head Elf's swapped personas. This time Blair was the first one out, shuffling out with a wide grin on his face and still poking at his lumpy beer -- er, cookie -- belly which seemed to permanently pouch out to the left. Again, he looked adorable, and the oversized outfit with sleeves and pant legs rolled up several times emphasized his smaller stature. Polite Santa that he was, however, Blair held the door open.

"C'mon out, Jim."

No one appeared at the door. Megan, Joel, Rafe, and Brown had already gathered up the remaining gifts and looked expectantly towards the door.

"Hurry up, Jim," Megan called. "The sooner we get this over with the sooner we can go home."

<Stomp-jingle. Stomp-jingle. Stomp-jingle. Jingle>

The six-foot something man dressed in green finally appeared at the door and stopped in the open doorway, his ice blue eyes sparking angry glares that threatened to freeze anybody who dared to speak, jaw clenching hard enough to crack a bowl full of unshelled macadamia nuts, and jingling curly-toed shoes and jester hat combining to make the ultimate oxymoron. The green tunic clung tightly to the tall man's body, not hiding Ellison's well-formed biceps or pecs, barely covering certain tights-wearing areas.

The four other members of Major Crimes remained surprisingly composed.

At first.

This belongs on a wanted poster somewhere. He's the Elf from Hell, no doubt about it, thought Joel.

Forget the quads, Megan thought as she assessed the detective in a new light, the camera temporarily forgotten. I never realized what fine -- gluteals -- he has. My, is he angry!

Brown was the first to speak. "I, uh, think -- I, uh, dropped something -- back there," he sputtered, scuttling back around the nearest corner.

"I'd better go help him," Rafe added quickly, retreating around the corner as well.

The rest of the gang only had to wait a few seconds before they heard Brown and Rafe from down the hall.

"BHA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA....!!!"

"He looks," <choke> "like Peter Pan on steroids!"

"Oh man, I don't remember the last time I saw Ellison that ticked!"

Megan and Joel couldn't bite their lips any longer and dissolved into laughter themselves.

"Why," <ha-ha> "don't you carry this, Jim." said Megan between gasps as she handed Jim a laundry bag of presents.

The tall elf frowned even more deeply, yanked the bag from the inspector, and turned and stalked down the hall in the other direction.

"Hey Jim. Jim! Wait up, man!" said Santa, taking off in a run to catch up to his partner's long strides.

"Aaaack!" <thump> Santa Blair's exclamation was partially muffled by the voluminous beard and wig as he tripped on one of his pant legs. Too agilely for an old white-haired man, the shorter man jumped back up and hobbled after his irate elven companion, attempting to roll his pant leg back up while simultaneously trying to make progress down the hall. Not surprisingly, the green figure hadn't bothered to stop.

"JIIIIMMM... Wait up....."

*************************

Santa and his helpers chose to round on foot for the kids in the Orthopaedic/Rehab unit, since a good number were wheelchair-bound. Blair remained incredibly jovial, ho-ho-ing like an expert and making sure to bend or squat down to talk to each child at eye-level. The taller elf, however, continued to stalk behind him, white laundry bag slung over one shoulder and wearing a pretty mean frown, shoes jingling farcically with each stomp. The humor wasn't lost on the children or the staff -- the only difference was that the kids made no effort to suppress their giggles or pointing at the big man who was so obviously not having a good time.

"Ho-ho there, Maddy! I hear you've been a good girl this year," Santa said as he stooped down to speak cheerily to a dark-haired Asian girl about five years old, wearing large leg braces and supporting herself with a walker.

The girl nodded wordlessly, but her attention was on the very tall green person standing behind Santa.

"Uh, Head Elf," called Santa out of one side of his mouth, "Could you get Maddy's present for me, please?"

Maddy watched as Ellison the Elf swung the bag down and let it land unceremoniously on the hospital's sport rug with a resounding <thump!>. His hat jingled as he fished around in the bag and yanked out a festively wrapped bag containing a large stuffed Elmo, slapping the present into Santa's hand with the fervor of a scrub nurse on a bad day.

Blair rolled his eyes. This wallowing in self-pity was getting real old, real fast, and he wished that a mere demand to snap out of it would work, but he had his doubts.

"Here you go, Maddy --"

"What's his name?" the little girl interrupted, still looking up at Jim.

"Uh, Jii -- ngle -- Jim. Yeah, Jingle Jim," said Santa. "He's my best elf," Blair added, recovering from the unexpected question.

"He doesn't look very happy," Maddy solemnly proclaimed.

Blair glanced back up at Jim from his crouched position. "Well, uh -- there was this incident with the reindeer --"

Maddy was no longer listening to Santa Claus. She shuffled slowly over to Jim and reached out to tug at the edge of his tunic while looking straight up into the detective's face. "Jingle," she said in a small voice. "Is it fun being an elf?"

Jim looked down and gulped at the question, now that she had his attention. Not able to bring himself to lie out loud to a child, he just nodded.

"Sometimes I have bad days," she continued. "Are you having a bad day?"

Finally Jim was crouching down. "Yeah, I guess you could say that," he said in a low voice, even managing a slight smile in spite of himself.

"My daddy always says 'a hug makes the bad go away.'" In the next instant, Maddy reached forward over her walker and put her arms around Jim's neck, giving him a little squeeze and feeling the big man return the hug.

"Is that better now, Jingle?"

"Yes, sweetie, thanks," Jim said. The twinkle had actually come back into his blue eyes and the frown erased.

"Now," Maddy said in an official tone, pleased that the first problem had been fixed, "you're mad at Santa, aren't you?"

"What? No, not real --"

"Now you give Santa a hug." Her tone was incredibly final.

Blair's eyes twinkled, and he stood up and gave his partner a hard squeeze before Jim could think too hard about it.

Maddy clapped happily.

As the Major Crimes gang left the unit, the Head Elf remarked to his boss, "If anybody can do it, that girl's gonna achieve world peace when she grows up."

Joel, Rafe, Brown, Megan, and Blair all agreed.

"Either that or become a police captain," mused Rafe. "Even Simon would've been impressed."

*************************

The Hematology-Oncology floor was the last stop on Santa's tour of duty. Blair had been dreading it somewhat. The mere thought of seeing so many children ravaged by leukemia and other kinds of cancer was enough to depress anyone, and he feared that many of the kids would be too sick to really enjoy Christmas. To his surprise, the resilience of the children on this ward rivaled that of any other, and they were greeted by giggling, screams and shouting when they walked through the double doors. The shining looks on their faces were almost enough to make one forget about the pale skin or bald heads of most of the patients as Santa and the Head Elf handed out the last of the presents. There had been enough for everyone.

"James, man! How're you doing, buddy?" exclaimed Blair. He hadn't seen the thinly red-haired, Jags cap-wearing seven-year-old boy standing toward the back of the crowd, waiting until all the other kids had gotten their gifts. Blair had made friends with James a few months back when he'd been admitted to Cascade General Hospital, and he and Jim had invited James over to the loft a few times since then to watch movies or play games.

"What are you doing here, James? I thought you got your chemo at the other hospital," said Blair.

"My doctor decided to move me over here for the treatments." James motioned to the brightly decorated counters and colorful pictures on the walls. "I like it better here -- that other hospital was so -- drab."

James grinned up at Blair and Jim, pleased that they had come and amused at their current garb. "How'd you get Jim to wear that?" he asked Blair incredulously. It was almost a rhetorical question.

Blair hemmed and hawed.

"I thought it would make you laugh, kid," said the tall elf.

James shook his head in disbelief. "You're nuts, man. No way I would ever wear a thing like that."

"I tried telling him," Jim motioned to his partner, "but he wouldn't listen!"

"Oh, Blair -- this is Lisa," continued James, ushering a rather shy six year old girl around to the front of Santa. "She's in the room next to me. I'm looking out for her 'cause she's new here and doesn't know anybody."

Blair's heart filled with sympathy as a very thin, formerly brown-haired (judging from the remaining wisps) girl stood before him.

"Hey, Lisa," Santa said kindly, shaking her small hand with his white gloved one.

Timidly, the girl reached out and stroked Blair's white wig.

"Hey, I've got an idea." The young man lifted off the fake hair and settled it on the girl's head. The soft polyester tendrils draped over her shoulders and hung down her back as she hurried off to look at her reflection in a nearby computer monitor.

Both hands flew up to her mouth as Lisa giggled with delight and James, Blair, and Jim grinned.

"Can we sing something?" said James, tugging on Blair's coat.

"Sure, man. H, come over here and help me out!" called Santa.

"Let's sing 'Jingle Bells'," cried the boy.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..." sang Brown soulfully. In no time the staff and all the kids had joined in. "Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh, hey!"

"Aw, I wanted to sing the other version," whispered Jim into Blair's ear. "You know, the one about Batman."

Though he kept on singing, Santa wasted no time in elbowing the Head Elf rather viciously.

*************************

Rafe clicked his cellphone off just as Brown finished leading a second round of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and everybody was clapping and laughing. Most people hadn't even heard the ring of the cellphone amid the boisterous singing, and Rafe had moved off to the side in order to hear the caller.

Moving unobtrusively to his partner's side, the detective spoke quietly. "H, that was Rhonda. She said Officer Newton just came up with a hot new lead on the Seales case. We should probably be getting back to the precinct."

Brown nodded. "Looks like we elves have to get back to work. We'll have to come back again and sing with ya'll!"

A chorus full of "yay's!" answered in the affirmative. As the kids began to disperse, Brown called out to the rest of the gang, "We're heading back to the precinct now."

"I'm heading out now, too -- got a call to make before I go back," Joel added as he followed the two detectives down the hall toward the elevator. Good thing I brought my own car here. No way I'm going back with those two, he thought.

"Okay, thanks guys," Blair called after them. He turned toward Jim and grinned. "See, that wasn't so bad now, was it?"

The detective frowned but couldn't hold it for long, quickly breaking into a brilliant grin himself. He glanced at his outfit again and shook his head. "Man, I earned my pay today. Way more than my pay, in fact. Simon had better come up with a huge Christmas bonus for me this year."

*************************

"Is it there?" Brown hissed, peering around the corner nearest the restroom and down the hallway.

"I'm looking, I'm looking," Rafe hissed back from inside.

"Hurry, will you?"

"Got it!" Rafe emerged from the restroom holding the all-important object.

"Let's get out of here, man!"

************************

Ten minutes later, Megan had handed off the last couple teddy bears that still remained to the nurse manager, and all the staff and kids had finally finished thanking Santa and his Head Elf for coming. The elevator to the second floor dinged as the three remaining members of the Santa crew emerged -- Blair holding his Santa wig and beard in one hand, Jim holding the jester hat, and Megan following with a pile of empty folded-up laundry bags. The two men were laughing hysterically at each other as they headed down the hall to the restroom. A perky version of "Jingle Bell Rock" played over the hospital speakers, reflecting the high moods of both men.

"I'm gonna have to put you on a diet, Chief," said Jim, patting Blair's lumpy belly.

"Okay, man, as soon as you start taking ballet lessons," retorted the red-suited anthropologist, whacking his partner rather ineffectually with the beard.

"Why don't you both take ballet? I'd pay to see you dance," Megan offered from behind as they proceeded down the hallway.

The two men looked at each other, then spoke at once.

"I don't think so," Ellison decided.

"Never mind," agreed Sandburg.

Laughing again, the two men pushed open the door to the restroom where they had originally changed into the costumes. "We'll be done in a few minutes, Conner," Jim called back as he followed his partner into the room.

Megan nodded, moving to lean back against the wall again. She was beginning to feel like she'd played an integral role in holding up the hospital walls that day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Jim? Where'd you put the duffle bag?"

"I don't know, Sandburg, you had it last -- I thought you stuck it over there in the corner."

<jingle>

"I did too, but it's not there."

"What do you mean 'it's not there'?"

"Well, it isn't, man -- do you see it?"

"I can't believe this is happening. Somebody actually stole the thing!"

"Okay, let's not panic here. Maybe the janitor picked it up."

"I knew we shouldn't have left it in here. Damn!"

<frantic sound of stall doors being pushed open one by one>

<jingle>

"Look, let's just go down to hospital security, check their lost and found, call housekeeping."

"This wouldn't have happened if you'd given the duffle to Rafe like I suggested."

"You're blaming me for this!?! You agreed that the stuff was gonna be okay here, too, Jim! Besides, you should know better than to trust my judgment when it comes to security issues. I don't have special training in that like some people."

Megan rolled her eyes as the two men burst out of the restroom door and headed down the hall at a swift pace, still bickering and jingling.

"Hey Megan, where's the --"

"First floor, east end of the lobby," she answered. Megan shook her head as she turned to follow them to hospital security. "What did I do to deserve this?" the woman muttered to herself.

************************

<squeeeeeeeeealllll>

Rafe clutched at the passenger side door handle, trying to counter-balance himself from being thrown to the outside with the fierce left turn Brown had just made in his large brown Chevy Malibu. "Would you slow down a little?" he yelled. "We're gonna get stopped for reckless driving if you don't quit squealing the tires, H!"

"I passed driving school at the academy with flying colors, Rafe. Y' don't have anything to worry about," insisted Brown as the two men headed back to the precinct through several back alleys. "Okay, but we don't have much time, you know." He slowed the car just a little.

"Yeah, well, it's the flying part I'm worried about, Detective," answered Rafe. "Did you like how I faked the cell phone call from Rhonda?"

"Yeah, man, that was good. I don't think anybody suspected anything."

"How much money from the guys in Vice are we talking, anyway?" asked Rafe.

"They offered me ten bucks a shot. I think there were seven or eight of them at least." Brown slammed on the brakes, screeching to a halt at a red light.

Suddenly Brown's right arm flew out to the side, hitting Rafe on the chest. He turned to his friend, eyes twinkling. "That gives me an idea, man. We're stopping at the donut shop on the way back."

"The donut shop? Are you crazy? We don't have that kind of time."

"Nah, it's a slow time of day right now. Sal 'll give us six dozen donuts for cheap, and that's more than enough money to still have some left over."

"But Ellison --"

"Don't worry, man. I've got a plan," Brown assured the other man. "This is gonna be good, and makin' up time is not gonna be a problem with this car. Hold on..."

<squeeeeeeeeeeealllllll>

"Aaaaaaaaack! BROWN.....!!!!!"

************************

Santa and his elf (both minus their head gear) still garnered quite a few stares and giggling as they were forced to parade across the main lobby area to get to the security office.

"Let me get this straight." The uniformed security guard in the booth twirled his pencil in the air. "You guys are cops from the Cascade PD and you were dressed up as Santa and his elf to pass out Christmas presents to all the kids, and now you can't find your clothes because you left them in the restroom unattended." The guard looked over at Megan for confirmation, as if he was having a difficult time believing the other two strangely dressed individuals standing before him, even if one of them did look like a cop. Sort of. The inspector sighed and nodded, pulling out her Cascade PD badge and waving it in front of the man.

The security guard ran his hand over his mouth, attempting not to smile.

"That's correct," continued Jim impatiently, snatching his badge back from the guard and shoving it back under Sandburg's wide Santa belt. "Has anyone turned a green duffle bag in to you?"

"No, I'm afraid not," the guard said. "But I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it. Sir."

Jim groaned.

"Lemme ask housekeeping for you," the guard continued. "Maybe they found it. Mrs. Malkovich! Mrs. Malkovichhhhhhh....." he yelled over his shoulder.

A very plump, short, older woman wearing a blue smock over her dress waddled out of the security back office, a donut in one of her plump hands, smiling so broadly that her pink cheeks plumped up enough to squint her eyes mostly shut. She beamed at both men, seemingly unfazed by their appearances. "Hov may I help you boys?" she asked brightly in a heavy Russian accent.

"This is Mrs. Malkovich, head of housekeeping. If she doesn't know about it, nobody does," explained the security officer.

"Uh, Mrs. Malkovich, did you or any of your workers happen to find a green duffle bag? We left it in the second floor restroom and somebody took it," explained Blair.

The woman frowned. "A -- duf -- fle? -- bag?" she repeated.

"Yes. You know, a cloth bag about this big with a zipper..." Blair's hands flailed as he attempted some sign language.

Suddenly her face brightened in understanding. "Ahhh. Yes. Duf -- fle bag!"

"Yeah!" said Blair.

Jim rolled his eyes at the inefficiency of this interrogation.

"No, no. I am sorry, ve hav found no duffle bag today. I vill tell my staff to look for it. Ve vill call your police office if ve find it," the woman beamed.

"Thank you very much," said Blair, shaking the woman's hand vigorously. "Thanks a lot."

"You're velcome," Mrs. Malkovich called as the two men turned away from her.

"Now what're we gonna -- OWW!" cried Blair, clutching suddenly at the back of his pants.

"Wha -- Ouch! Hey!" yelled Jim, also clutching at his less-well-covered buttocks.

The two men whirled around, only to see the beaming woman wave cutely at them both, then retreat into the back office. The security guard seemed intensely occupied with a magazine.

Jim growled. This entire afternoon was playing out more and more like a nightmare he couldn't manage to wake up from.

"Man, that hurt!" Blair sounded wounded, still rubbing at the pinched area on his backside as they walked back out into the lobby.

"At least you have pants on," retorted Jim.

"Would you two STOP your petty bickering!?!" yelled Megan. "Look, why don't we just to back to the station and you can take your truck home and get some clothes, okay? I have a meeting with a forensics expert in 15 minutes and I don't intend to miss it because of you two. Got it?"

"Yes'm," Blair answered meekly.

"Fine," Jim mumbled.

"Good. Now the parking lot's over there," Megan pointed. "Move!"

************************

In the precinct security room, Brown and Rafe huddled around the surveillance monitor dedicated to the garage.

"Oh, look, bogie, boys, bogie -- here they come!" cried Brown, gesturing at the screen.

With bated breath, everyone in the security booth watched as a particular blue police van pulled into the garage and parked in its designated parking space. The headlights turned off, and in a matter of seconds the driver's side door opened as Conner got out and walked toward the elevators.

Though there was still visible movement in the cab, no one got out of the other side of the van.

"Why aren't they getting out?" demanded Brown. "Oh man, what if they just go straight to the hayseed and drive home?"

"Patience, patience, H," Rafe said confidently. "Don't panic, they're not gonna do that. They're gonna come into the building."

"How're you so sure, man?"

"Because I found something in that duffle you don't know about. Quite necessary to starting a vehicle, as a matter of fact." Rafe grinned smugly.

Brown's eyes widened and he broke into a grin, slapping the detective a high-five. "Did you put 'em back in the duffle?" he whispered.

"Of course I did. Using gloves, like you said. Then I gave it to the bum who gave it to the lost and found who gave it to Rhonda who put the bag on Ellison's desk. It made it -- I checked already."

"This is all so beautiful I could cry," Brown sniffed facetiously, his eyes laughing.

************************

<SLAM!>

The sound of the van's large metal door slamming shut resonated through the police van's cab. Blair jerked a little at the loudness of the sound.

"I think we made her mad, Jim," the anthropologist said somewhat penitently.

"Yeah, Chief, I think you're right. She didn't say anything almost the whole way back here," Jim mused as they watched the statuesque woman march up to the elevators and punch the UP button.

"You think it had anything to do with the fact that we didn't stop bickering like she told us to?"

"Maybe. Though it's still beyond me how anyone could find us annoying." Jim looked sideways at his partner, smirking as Blair returned the grin.

"Let's go home, man," Blair said after a few moments pause. "I wanna wear some real clothes again."

"Okay. If we run to the pickup really fast, we can miss the security cameras. You've got the keys, right?"

<deadly silence>

"You've got the keys, RIGHT?"

"Uh -- No. There's no pockets in this Santa suit, man!" Blair blurted defensively.

"Well, there's definitely no pockets in this outfit, Sandburg!"

"Don't even try to blame this one on me, Jim. YOU always keep the keys in your jacket pocket. You never gave 'em to me, man."

"And my jacket is --"

"IN THE DUFFLE BAG," the two men repeated in unison.

Anyone in the garage at that moment would have heard a semi-muffled "Yyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaghhhhh...!!!" emitting from the blue police van in the third parking space nearest the elevators.

************************

"We're gonna have to go in there. I've got a spare set of keys in my backpack, but I left it on your desk in the bullpen," said Blair.

"YOU'RE going in there, Santa, not me. There's NO WAY I'm going in there dressed like this."

"Uh-uh, Jim. I look just as stupid -- well, almost as stupid -- as you do, and we're in this together. Man, how many times to I have to tell you that?"

"C'mon, Chief, pleeeeeeeease?" whined Ellison.

"No way, man, no negotiating. If one of us has got to be humiliated, then the other person's going in, too. We're partners, remember? C'mon, man, fair is fair." Blair started to take off his red coat, intending to carry it since he had a t-shirt on underneath.

"This is not fair, Sandburg. You can take off that jacket. What am I gonna take off? I can't walk into the precinct in a t-shirt and -- TIGHTS!"

"Here, Jim, you can wear the coat, then," said Blair.

"That makes me feel a whole lot better, Chief," Jim answered sarcastically.

"Here, I'll even wear the jester hat, okay? Let's just get this over with, Jim."

"Someone's gonna pay for this. BIG TIME."

************************

"Finally! Here they come! Look, look!" cried Brown excitedly, bouncing up and down, his eyes transfixed on the monitor. They watched as the other door of the van swung open and the one taller and one shorter figure jumped out.

Rafe elbowed Brown with a satisfied look on his face. "See, told 'ya."

The rest of the men in the security booth snickered as the two partners approached the elevators. "Is Ellison wearing tights?"

"Yep," Brown grinned.

"Okay, the timing on this next part is crucial. Ray, you remember what to say, right?"

"Yeah," answered the security officer standing next to the microphone. "As soon as they get out of the elevators, right?"

"Yep. Let's get down there, H, so we can see it all in live action."

"I'm right with 'ya, man," said Brown, grinning as he rubbed his hands together and the two men exited the security booth.

************************

"Well, so far so good," Blair chatted nervously as they rode upstairs in the fortuitously empty elevator. "All we have to do is walk quickly but calmly down the hall, grab my backpack, and we're outta here."

Jim remained silent. He still had a very foreboding feeling about this whole thing, even though his vigilant sensory scans of the building had turned up nothing to confirm his fears. The detective clutched the belled slippers in one hand with a very firm grip around the noisy parts, not wishing to attract any more attention than necessary when walking down the hall.

<ding>

"Okay, just be calm and natural," Blair murmured softly, though he wasn't sure whether he was mumbling more for himself or Jim.

The doors opened with a small swish and Jim immediately sent out his hearing, his head leaning slightly out of the elevator.

Again, everything seemed status quo in the hall and down in the bullpen. People talking, the sound of shoes tapping on the tiled floor, occasional laughter and the sound of phones ringing and keyboards typing.

The detective nodded, finally stepping out of the elevator with Blair close behind him. The elevator doors slid shut behind them and the soft whirr of the motor began again as the elevator ascended to another floor.

"ATTENTION ALL EMPLOYEES OF MAJOR CRIMES AND VICE! ATTENTION ALL EMPLOYEES OF MAJOR CRIMES AND VICE!" a voice blared over the loudspeaker.

Startled, the two men fell back, pasting themselves against the elevator doors. Blair frantically punched both elevator buttons.

"Damn!" whispered the taller man.

"FREE DONUTS IN THE HALL COURTESY OF SANTA AND HIS ELF. FREE DONUTS IN THE HALL COURTESY OF SANTA AND HIS ELF."

Choruses of "All right!'s" and "Yay!'s" audible even to Blair contributed to a sinking, panicky feeling in his stomach as the horrid noise of almost-stampeding footsteps got louder and louder, doors all up and down the hall opened, and people from both departments poured out into the hall, spying the open boxes of donuts stacked on a couple tables Jim had neglected to notice before.

"Let's make a run for it, Chief," Jim said in a low voice, thinking rapidly of all the possible escape routes from their current position.

"Well, looky here!" Brown and Rafe had appeared out of nowhere and were slapping their two victims on the back. "Hey everyone, it's Santa and his elf!"

All eyes turned toward the elevator and beheld perhaps the most memorable (and public) Christmas spectacle in the entire history of the Cascade PD. They all paused and fell silent, donuts poised in midair, mouths gaping.

One shorter man, curly brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing a heather gray t-shirt, incredibly baggy, rolled-up red fuzzy pants, too-large cheap black rubber boots and a comical green jester hat with one of the bells hanging over his right eye, grinned and gestured sheepishly with the white beard and wig at the 55 pairs of eyes staring at him.

The taller man, his jaw permanently clenched, ice blue eyes sparking, mouth cocked in a wry, very irritated expression, stood before his colleagues in an incredibly embarrassing red fuzzy coat with white trim over a tight green tunic, and of course, showing off his shoe-less feet and well-formed legs with a pair of green tights. He did NOT wave.

The historic silence actually lasted only a split second as every last PD employee began either laughing and pointing, cheering, shouting their thanks for the donuts, or clapping at the two men. Jim and Blair squinted at the series of bright flashes as Megan and a couple of guys from forensics with a really big camera zoom lens and a camcorder insured that the moment would not be left totally to the imagination for those unfortunate enough to have missed the event due to stomach flu or other valid excuses.

Admirers and pitiers alike surrounded Ellison and Sandburg, delivering congratulations and pats on the back, low-toned words of sympathy, or cracks about their lack of Yuletide fashion sense, mostly oblivious to the fact that both men would have preferred to be swallowed up by a convenient chasm in the floor. Either that or simply be allowed to walk to the bullpen without further ado and retrieve the precious truck keys from Sandburg's backpack sitting so peacefully inside Jim's desk drawer.

************************

Still laughing, Simon wiped his eyes for the umpteenth time, his drink abandoned on the coffee table when he'd realized that he couldn't listen to his officers tell the story without spilling something on himself or worse, choking and spewing the liquid all over Ellison and Sandburg's furniture. He clutched his stomach with one hand. "I think my stomach hurts worse now than it did yesterday!"

"My favorite line is still what Captain Gruber from Vice said when he saw Jim and Blair's mismatched outfits. 'What happened to you guys? You look like a genetic experiment from the North Pole gone dead wrong!'" Brown laughed, slapping his knee.

"How about 'You sure didn't let Mrs. Claus pick out your clothes for you this year, did you?'" offered Rafe.

"If you hadn't had the video and pics taken, Conner, I'd be suing that Chinese restaurant right now for food poisoning," Simon chuckled while admiring the photos Megan had had developed at the one hour photo place down the street from the PD. He had a feeling a few of these were going to end up in next month's department newsletter.

"Jim and Sandy definitely went above and beyond the call of duty yesterday, Captain," Megan said, her eyes twinkling at the two men sitting beside her as she got up from the couch.

"Got that right," grumbled Ellison, handing everyone their coats.

"Yeah, isn't there some kind of medal for that type of thing?" asked Rafe, wrapping a red scarf around his neck.

"Believe me, I'd rather just forget about what happened yesterday," Blair declared as he waved good-bye to their still-laughing dinner guests retreating down the hall. He shut the loft's door behind them.

"You know Rafe and Brown rigged that thing for sure, Chief," said Jim as he swung an arm around his partner's shoulder while they ambled back to the couch.

"You found the bum?"

"Yep. The girl at the front desk described him for me and I found him -- he's one of the regulars down the street from the PD. He said Rafe gave him a couple donuts in return for turning the duffle in."

"Ray still refuses to say whether Brown or Rafe were in the security booth yesterday afternoon, but he won't deny it, either," added the younger man.

"Yeah, and Serena couldn't find any prints besides yours and mine on the keys. But no worries, Chief. I smelled Rafe's cologne and Brown's aftershave on that duffle. They did it, no question."

"So what are we gonna do about it, man?" Blair asked, looking up at his taller partner. "Whatever it is, it's gotta be good."

"Of course it will be, Chief. First we'll let 'em know that we know they're guilty. Nothing like a bit of paranoia and anxiety to spice up their existence. Yeah, we've got plenty of time to think of something." Jim grinned down at his roommate. "One thing I do know."

"What's that, Jim?"

"There's gonna be pain involved, Chief. LOTS of PAIN," Ellison declared.

"This your idea of the Christmas spirit?" grinned Blair.

"Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth," the detective answered solemnly. "It's biblical."

Blair's blue eyes twinkled as he gave Jim a high-five. "How about green tights for green tights?"

~ The End ~