The Way to a Man’s Heart

The Way to a Man's Heart by Franscats - artwork by Beth

by Franscats

Artwork by Beth

Please send feedback to the author and artist!

Blair glanced across the Major Crimes Police Department bullpen and sighed. Detective Jim Ellison was sitting there, studying his computer screen, and methodically writing up his notes from his most recent case. It was a bizarre case that involved a man trying to ship his best friend overseas, in a crate! Unfortunately, neither the friend nor the shipped man seemed to understand: that crates are inspected before leaving the country, that shipping someone through customs without a passport to some island in the south pacific so he could have a vacation was illegal, and that almost air tight crates don’t leave enough oxygen to breathe. Equally unfortunate was the fact that Jim was at the airport dropping off Naomi (she had spent a week with them celebrating the upcoming solstice, Blair didn’t want to consider what Jim thought of that) when the crate was brought to the curb. Jim, with his highly sensitive sentinel nose, could smell what everyone else couldn’t; the dead body inside. As the officer on the scene, and since the crate had not yet made it into the airport where federal authorities would be in charge of the package, Jim was handed the case. Of course the friend, in near panic, had taken off and Jim took three days to track him down at his girlfriend’s house and bring him in. He was charged with a bevy of crimes and Jim was just finishing up the paperwork.

Sighing again, Blair considered the man in front of him. He wanted Jim! There was no other way to put it. He was in love with his roommate and had been at least since their return from Peru after saving Simon Banks, Jim’s friend and Captain, and Simon’s son, Daryl. Watching Jim in the jungle, seeing him dressed as a warrior - hot, sweaty, dirty and dangerous - had done something to Blair’s libido. Since then, Jim had become the star of all of Blair’s late-night fantasies. Others noticed that since Peru Blair was not dating much - Rafe had even commented on it - but they chalked it up to the grad student being busy with work and the end-of-semester crunch. Jim didn’t comment at all, and sometimes Blair wondered if he even noticed.

Considering the police department’s own version of Adonis thoughtfully, Blair decided it was time to methodically seduce the man. After all, Blair was a master of seduction and Jim was not homophobic. Blair was 99% certain that Jim wouldn’t be outraged by a male lover. Blair had drawn this conclusion after some careful, if somewhat covert, testing. He had initially noticed Jim didn’t have any gay friends (that he was aware of anyway) and thought Jim might have some problems with the gay lifestyle which would squash any potential relationship Blair could initiate. On the other hand, Jim’s careers first as an army ranger and then as a cop weren’t the most likely places to find people living alternate lifestyles, so the lack of gay friends might be more an environmental factor than anything else. To test the waters, Blair had introduced Jim to friends who were in a committed relationship. It hadn’t bothered Jim at all that they were homosexual. He acted no differently when the pair came to dinner and later, when Blair had asked Jim about his opinion, Jim had replied that it was no big deal and what happened between consenting adults was none of his business as long as it didn’t involve anything illegal. Taking Jim at his word, Blair decided it was time to seduce the detective and, as Jim was a sentinel with five heightened senses, Blair knew he could bombard the detective’s senses and get reactions that he couldn’t from anyone else. And, if anyone knew how to bombard…

There was an old adage that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach and Blair decided he would start there. Jim was super sensitive to foods but he was also super responsive to foods and so Blair picked some that he knew were considered aphrodisiacs: oysters, garlic, almonds, chocolate and honey. Of course, he couldn’t serve them all at once; people would think he’s nuts. He would have to be far more subtle and build the momentum as he went along. That was why he showed up at Major Crimes on a late Friday afternoon three days before Christmas, and the last day before Jim’s vacation, carrying a bowl of honey roasted almonds and a tray of homemade Italian struffoli (a dessert of small balls coated in honey and colorful sprinkles). Putting both sweet confections on Jim’s desk, he smiled at his partner as several of the detectives looked over with envy in their eyes and moved closer to Jim’s desk, eyeing the tray and bowl.

“Hey Jim, I have these recipes that I got years ago for Christmas treats and thought you might like some to get you through your last day before vacation.”

“Thanks, Chief,” Jim smiled at Blair, reaching for a few of the almonds before turning back to his work. He downed the nuts, not really paying attention, and then rose, paperwork in hand, to deliver the forms to the DA’s mailbox. “I’ll be back in a few,” he informed Blair who watched Jim’s retreating figure before turning and making a beeline for the break room to get some coffee.

Twenty minutes later, Jim poked his head in the break room door where Blair was sipping some coffee. It had taken Blair ten minutes to find the coffee and then another five to wash the pot and run the coffee through it, so he was just sipping his first cup when Jim came next to him and reached for the pot. “Hey, how did you like the struffoli?” he asked, as Jim poured some coffee and milk into his cup.

“Haven’t tried it yet. I just got back from the DA. I needed some coffee to try it with,” he smiled as he took the cup and headed for his desk, Blair following. In the bullpen everyone was deeply absorbed in their work, eyes shying away, when Jim strode to his desk and looked down at … the empty tray and bowl before glancing around. Blair behind him stared down in equal shock.

“What?” he asked Jim.

Jim shook his head with a slight, good-natured chuckle and looked to Joel, his nostrils flaring for a moment. “How was the struffoli?” he asked. The large Bomb Squad Captain smiled back, patting his stomach, with some embarrassment.

“Really good,” he admitted. “Ah, thanks,” he offered before turning to Blair. “If you make stuff like this all the time you can come and live with me and my wife, Blair.” Blair gave a tight smile back as Rafe and H seconded Joel’s comment and Jim sat back down, pushing the empty tray and bowl away somewhat dispiritedly as he continued his work.

Looking over his partner, Blair shook his head. The honey and almonds hadn’t worked unless he wanted to go live with Joel. Still he had other foods for Jim.

That night, Jim walked into the loft very late and dropped onto the couch with a sigh of relief, the grad student following. It had been a long week for Jim, culminating in a sixteen hour shift today. Jim had spent the week working late to close cases and spending evenings getting a lot of paperwork finished up while dodging most office Christmas parties. The work needed to be done because Jim was scheduled for a vacation from December 23rd till the Monday following New Year’s and he didn’t want to have to think about paperwork during the break.

And Blair wanted to make the time off into a little romantic vacation for them - not Jim and some long legged, redheaded, criminal-bimbo. Turning to the fridge, Blair retrieved two beers and walking over handed one to his partner who rested his head back against the couch, closing his eyes, relieved that he was now officially on vacation.

“I know you’re tired, I’ll make dinner tonight,” Blair offered with a glance at the time. Could it really be ten o’clock?

“Thanks but why don’t we just order in, my treat.”

Blair thought about the oysters, garlic butter and decadent chocolate dessert he had waiting in the wings, and then looked over at Jim. He could do the dinner tomorrow night. Jim didn’t have any plans that he was aware of and, yes, he did keep Jim’s social calendar. Since seducing someone who would fall asleep in the middle of the seduction was not the best way to get results, he nodded his agreement.

“Fine but don’t make plans for tomorrow night. I have some oysters in the fridge and thought I’d make Oysters Rockefeller.”

“What’s the occasion?” Jim asked, opening one eye and looking over his partner.

Blair smiled, trying to deflect the question. “Just trying to get in the holiday mood,” he obfuscated. Jim nodded as Blair glanced around. “And I thought I’d do a little decorating if that’s okay.”

Jim waved his hand, “Feel free as long as I don’t have to help.” He rested his head back against the couch again, closing his eyes as Blair called for a pizza.

Saturday morning, Blair left breakfast warming in the oven and slipped out of the loft, heading down to the market to get some supplies. He stopped to pick up wreaths, a mix of non-scented and lightly scented holiday candles for atmosphere, and some mistletoe (just in case the food didn’t work) before shopping for some last minute food items. After all, he couldn’t just serve oysters and cake. He needed a couple of good bottles of wine with the meal; enough wine to mellow his overextended sentinel and some special flavored coffee to compliment the chocolate dessert. Next he headed to the bakery, buying some good crusty bread before returning home.

Jim was in the kitchen, newspaper open to the sports page, when Blair bounced in carrying the supplies. “Hey Chief, thanks for the pancakes,” Jim said from the table as Blair placed the groceries on the counter.

“No problem Jim. Did you get enough rest?”

Jim snorted. “I could probably sleep another few hours but I’d get nothing done.”

“You’re on vacation man; you’re not supposed to get anything done. Get some more sleep.” Jim just smiled and turned his attention to the bags watching, as Blair put away the various things he had bought.

“What’s with the wine?” Jim asked pointing at the two bottles with a fork.

“I thought we might have some with dinner,” Blair answered.

Jim glanced at Blair. “If this is some kind of bribe to get your present early,” he warned, “you can forget it.”

Blair smiled back, thinking of his gifts to Jim. He couldn’t wait to see what Jim thought of them. “We could open presents tomorrow night; a lot of people open presents on Christmas Eve,” he said as he opened a second, much larger, bag and held up some red and green candles, showing them to Jim. Moving to the coffee table, he placed them on coasters, all too aware of the watchful eye of his obsessively neat roommate. Next, he pulled out the three small wreaths. They were identical, decorated in red and gold berries and bells, and he hung the wreaths on the balcony doors. Finally, he held up a small ball, eyeing it. “Mistletoe,” he informed Jim as he looked at the ceiling. As much as he wanted to, there was no way he could hang the small ball in the living room over the sofa; the ceiling was too high to reach without a ladder. Glancing around, he looked at the kitchen island, noting the hanging pots and started forward.

“Sandburg, do you really think anyone is going to lean across the stove to kiss someone?” Jim asked with amusement.

Blair didn’t answer the question, mostly because he could think of one person who would be more than willing to reach over the stove to kiss a sentinel smack on the lips. “Where would you hang it?” Blair countered, and watched Jim glance around.

“I’d hang it from the light over the dining room table,” he suggested, standing and straightening. Blair couldn’t help but follow the lines of his body up as Jim stood. “Hand it over and I’ll hang it for you, Shorty.”

Blair shook his head, his curls twirling around his face. “I’ll do it. After living with you for two years, I know you aren’t into decorating for Christmas,” or anything else, he thought but didn’t add. Seventy-five percent of the decorations in the loft were from Blair’s travels. In the back of his mind, Blair acknowledged that at one time Jim had been right in not decorating. As an untrained sentinel, his senses uncontrolled, Jim would need to be somewhat of a minimalist to survive. But those days were past.

“I like taking you to the hospital after you take a fall and break something even less,” Jim answered, holding out his hand and Blair relinquished the prize with a big smile.

He watched as Jim removed his shoes before standing on the chair to hook the mistletoe ball to the lamp. Now, he would have to just do a little rearranging so the ball wasn’t directly over the table. Or maybe, not. Having Jim lean over to serve food would put him directly under the mistletoe.

Jim finished and climbed down wiping his hands together. “I didn’t realize how dusty that fixture is,” he stated. “Maybe, I should get a ladder and do some cleaning.”

“Do I need to remind you again that you are on vacation? Relax, let the dust be.” Blair watched Jim glance up, intrigued, as Jim’s eyes dilated focusing on the light and following the chain up to the ceiling. Jim’s sentinel abilities always amazed him and gave him an admittedly vicarious thrill; but using them to explore dust bunnies when he could be using them to explore Blair’s erogenous zones was nothing short of frustrating. Smacking Jim lightly on the arm to bring his attention back down to earth, he commanded, “Leave it.”

“For now, Sandburg,” Jim agreed and turned back to the table where his coffee was cooling and his newspaper was unfinished.

“Anal sentinels and their obsessive cleaning,” Blair grumbled quietly.

“I heard that,” Jim called opening the paper.

“I’d be worried if you didn’t!” Blair mock complained, hiding his smile, before turning back to the kitchen and turning on the tea kettle. “So, Jim, any plans for the holidays?”

Jim glanced over the top of his newspaper. “I thought I might re-grout the bathroom.” His eyes went back to the mistletoe ball and Blair could swear he was focusing on the dust. He was sure he would see the ladder out, and Jim cleaning the ceiling fixtures before the end of the day. “Maybe, do some cleaning and rearranging of the cabinets.”

“Okay, but it’s not exactly what I was asking. Any hot dates, you know skiing weekends, with jewel thieves?”

“You’re real funny, Chief. Nope, no plans.”

Blair nodded, a little relieved and turned back to finish making his tea. He wanted to share Jim with friends and family on Christmas day, specifically for dinner, but he didn’t want Jim to disappear on him as he had other plans for Jim that involved just the two of them. “Is there anyone you would want to invite over? I mean for dinner on Christmas? I can cook a traditional dinner.” Blair had met Jim’s brother recently and he knew Jim’s father was still alive, though Jim never spoke about the man.

“If you mean Steven, he’s spending Christmas in Acapulco and Simon’s spending Christmas with his family. It’s just us, Sandburg.”

Blair nodded his understanding, saddened by the fact that Jim didn’t even consider inviting his father. He would have liked to have Jim’s family over for dinner but a romantic candlelit dinner would be quite nice. “I’ll plan a dinner for two then.”

Jim glanced up at him from the newspaper. “It’s Christmas, no tofu,” he warned, and then frowned. “I thought you were Jewish.”

“As an anthropologist, I understand the importance of religious rituals,” Blair countered. “And I have spent some holidays with friends who celebrate, not to mention the solstice celebrations with Naomi.” Blair smiled at Jim’s face as he brought up the recent visit. Naomi had whirled in much like a tornado, with presents for both men, and, since she knew Jim was allergic to sage, frankincense to burn in the apartment in an effort to clear out the negative energy. The frankincense hadn’t worked out too well; certainly no better than the sage. Neither had the suggestion that they all go down to the bay at dawn and hold hands, greeting the sunrise. “Anyway, I cook better than you do.”

Jim sniffed in response but didn’t deny Blair’s claim. Putting down his newspaper he looked at his roommate and then, with a sigh, pulled out his wallet and dropped a bunch of twenties on the table. “If you are going to do the work, I should at least foot the bill for the meal,” he stated. “Get what you need for Christmas dinner.”

Blair smiled, looking at the money with some relief. Expenses were always tight for the student, but at this time of year they were especially so after buying gifts for Jim, Naomi, his Chris Cringle at Rainier, and his Secret Santa at Major Crimes. “I should pay for part of it,” he protested, but Jim shook his head.

“No, Chief. It’s a relief not to have to deal with the markets, the sounds, the lights, and the fake smells. This way I feel like I’m doing my share.”

Blair frowned, immediately stepping into guide mode. “Jim, are you having problems with your senses?”

Jim shook his head, “The dials just require a little more work at this time of year, with all the lights and things.”

Blair considered this thoughtfully. Last year, Jim had spent Christmas away, skiing, where there would be an abundance of fresh air with little, or no, Christmas trappings. Blair had been disappointed that his roommate was gone last Christmas but had dismissed it; he had only moved in a couple of months before and they were still getting used to one another and setting up their own boundaries.

“Okay, but if it gets to be too much, you have to tell me.”

Jim smiled and stood. “While you’re at the market, I’ll do some cleaning.”

Blair nodded, sure, as soon as he was gone, the ladder would make an appearance and the dust would disappear. “I’ll run to the market and buy what we need for a traditional Christmas dinner.”

“What would that entail?” Jim asked, taking his plate and cup to the sink.

Blair smiled hearing a note of caution in the detective’s voice. He thought about listing some absurd ingredients, but knew Jim would see right through it. “A small turkey for stuffing, maybe a small roast beef, potatoes, cranberries, vegetables, salad, and pie. It’s the usual fare in Western tradition. I mean I could do up an Eastern meal…”

“Just go get the food.”

“Right,” Blair grabbed his coat and started for the door but then turned. “Hey do you want me to get a bulb for the ceiling lamp so you can replace it while you have the ladder up?”

“No, I have…” Jim stopped and Blair smiled his “gotcha” smile. “Just go.”

Blair laughed, aware that Jim could hear him, as he headed out the door to the market.

The shopping required a visit to three different stores and took several hours, not just because of the crowds, though that would have been cause enough, but because Blair took his time picking through the foods. He knew this would either be the first Christmas meal he shared with his new lover, or the last Christmas meal at the loft. Intuitively, he knew if this seduction didn’t work, he would need to leave. He couldn’t stay if rejected, not with Jim knowing how he felt. Finally, having gathered the foods, he turned for home, hoping it would continue to be home.

The ladder was nowhere in sight when he walked in the door, but that did not fool Blair. Glancing at Jim who was rearranging the spice cabinet, he chuckled. “You can’t fool me man, you went and cleaned the lights.”

Jim turned and Blair started handing him things to put away. “Do you have some problem with cleaning?” Jim asked. “I mean, I’ve seen that room of yours, and it is a wreck but-”

“My room is not a wreck,” Blair cut him off. “I’ll have you know, I know where everything in that room is.”

“Yeah, on your floor.”

Blair ignored the comment, not wanting to admit its accuracy. Instead, he began drawing up the list of things he would need to do for Christmas dinner and specific time frames for cooking. When he finished, he glanced at Jim.

“I’ll make the apple pie today and heat it after dinner on Christmas. Which means, my friend, you don’t get to touch it once it’s made. We’ll have it with ice cream.” Blair could hear Jim grumble good-naturedly but, he said nothing as he went back to organizing the spice cabinet.

Blair watched him, stretching up to organize spices on the top shelf and admired the sleek, long lines of Jim’s body, considering what he would want to do with said body, his libido taking full rein of his imagination.

Jim turned to him frowning. “You okay, Chief? Your heart beat just jumped.”

“You hear my heartbeat?”

“Yeah,” to Blair’s ears, Jim sounded a bit uncomfortable. “I…um…I...,” he paused and then added “monitor it to keep you out of trouble.” Blair was sure Jim meant to say something else, but before he could challenge Jim, the sentinel asked, “What made it speed up?”

It wouldn’t do to admit he was thinking about Jim’s body so Blair smiled, casting about for an excuse before eyeing the spices. “I was thinking one of those spice jars was going to fall and if you breathed in all that spice at once,” he shook his head. “It would make Naomi’s sage and frankincense seem like nothing.”

Jim shuddered and Blair turned back to his Christmas list as he continued. “So, I have a special dinner for Christmas and some oysters in the fridge for tonight. What about Christmas Eve?”

Jim turned back to the spice rack. “Eggnog?” he asked.

Blair smiled and nodded. Last year, he had made eggnog heavily laced with rum just before Christmas and Jim had tried it before heading out to his little skiing tryst, and loved it.

“Sure man, I got all the ingredients while I was out.”

“Great,” Jim made a sandwich and moved out of the kitchen. “I’ll just get out of your way, so you can get to work.”

Blair watched him a moment and then shook his head in bemused exasperation, rolled up his sleeves, and pulled down some flour.

Two hours later, the loft had the incredible smell of warm baked apples as Blair pulled a large pie out of the oven and placed it on the stove burner to cool. Jim, seeing Blair put the pie down, came over to stand by the cooking island and took a look at it, licking his lips. “Hot apple pie,” he glanced at Blair. “Sally used to make apple pies for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.”


“Our housekeeper. She took care of us when we were growing up.”

Blair considered the information. He knew Jim and his brother Steven had been raised by their father. He also knew a single parent needed support and he should have expected that Jim’s father would get someone to take care of the boys. “Well, this recipe came from my aunt.”

“Sally’s had cinnamon,” Jim stated, an eye on the pie.

“So does this one,” Blair answered, rolling his eyes.

Sally’s had nutmeg.”

“So does this one,” Blair repeated, his voice just hinting at exasperation.

“Sally’s had raisins.”

Blair paused and took a breath. “Okay, I’ll serve you the pie with a bowl of raisins on the side,” he muttered.

“Maybe, I should try it,” Jim suggested.

“Yeah, you should … on Christmas,” Blair answered before turning off the oven. “That’s when we are having this pie.”

With a “humph,” Jim turned back to the living room where he was dusting every shelf.

Blair watched him go with affection and then turned back to the fridge to start the Oysters Rockefeller. Tonight he would ply his sentinel with oysters, wine and a decadent chocolate raspberry cake and then get Jim to lean over the table, under the mistletoe.

Blair was just putting the finishing touches on his meal. The oysters were ready to come out of the oven, the bread cut, the wine uncorked, and he was getting ready to set the table when there was a knock at the door.

He looked at the oven and back at the door and then turned as Jim extricated himself from his closet where he was rearranging some boxes and came to the top of the stairs.

Opening the door, Blair smiled at his neighbor, Miss Murphy. Miss Murphy was an 86 year-old lady who lived one floor down. Never married, she had no children, and people in the building had a tendency to watch out for her. They would carry her groceries in and take them out of her shopping cart, take out her garbage, change light bulbs, and fix things. She was partially deaf and her sight was not much better, but her mind was still active even if she did tend to repeat herself. Several people had her nephew Patrick’s phone number and he came by every Sunday to take care of things for her.

“Hello Miss Murphy,” Blair said loudly, then smiled at the woman even as his brain screamed that dinner was ready. The smile was replaced very quickly by a frown as he realized she was trembling

“Hello Blair, is Jim home?” she asked in a shaky voice.

“Right here Ma’am,” Jim walked down the stairs and came to the front door, a hand closing on her elbow as he guided her into the apartment and a seat.

“Jim, someone’s broken into my apartment.” She glanced up her lip trembling. “I thought I’d best come and get you.”

“How do you know someone broke in?”

“I always leave a potted plant over the door mat, to hide the extra key. It’s been moved.”

Jim nodded and then glanced over at Blair and shrugged. Blair realized dinner would just have to wait a few more minutes. “I’ll just go check it out. Can I have your key?” Jim asked, and received the set of keys before moving toward the door where he picked up his gun and his cell phone. “You stay here Miss Murphy.”

“Be careful, Jim,” Miss Murphy said, her eyes wide and Blair nodded, seconding that thought.

“I’ll just go with Jim,” he patted her arm. “Relax. Whatever is going on, we’ll take care of it.”

Following Jim down the stairs to the second floor, Blair placed himself right behind Jim as the detective neared the door. He watched as Jim tilted his head for a moment and then Blair reached out, a hand on Jim’s arm to ground the sentinel, knowing Jim was focusing his senses and listening for sounds in the apartment. After a moment, Jim straightened. “There are two men in there,” he whispered. “She’s right; they’re gloating about the key being under the mat.” He handed Blair the cellphone. “Call for backup and wait here.”

Blair took the phone as Jim pulled out his gun before quietly sliding Miss Murphy’s key into the lock, unlocking and opening the door.

Blair watched Jim slide into the dark apartment and then quickly called 911 before completely disobeying Jim’s order and cautiously following him in, quietly closing the door. Ducking down, Blair moved to the right so he was hidden behind the oven before poking his head over the top of the stove. The living room was mostly dark, except for a small bit of light coming through the blinds on the balcony doors, but Blair could see two beams from flashlights in the bedroom. Glancing around as his eyes became more accustomed to the darkness; he could make out Jim’s silhouette as he moved near the bedroom door, inching along the wall.

Needing a weapon, Blair grabbed a frying pan, holding it tight, just as the two burglars came out of the bedroom and Jim stepped behind them, gun drawn.

“Cascade Police,” Jim stated. “Kneel with hands on your heads.”

The two men caught unawares jumped and started to spin around, the flashlight beam bouncing with their movements as Jim repeated, “I said hands on your heads, now!” It was a barked out command and Blair hoped it was one they would obey.

Before the intruders could react (whether to obey or not), two patrolmen opened the door, their guns drawn. Light flooded the room from the hall, illuminating Jim standing behind the burglars, his legs spread apart to hold his position as his gun pointed at them.

The patrolmen also announcing they were “Cascade Police,” repeated Jim’s order and everyone stilled for a moment as they assessed the situation. Then, one of the patrolmen turned on a light and looked first at Jim and then at Blair, standing by the stove, holding a frying pan at the ready. Blair could see the recognition in the patrolman’s eyes and breathed a sigh of relief as the burglars, outmanned with the arrival of two more cops, did as Jim commanded, kneeling with their hands on their heads. The patrolmen, came over, and handcuffed them as Jim stepped back, lowering his weapon, and Blair returned the frying pan to the stove.

“Detective Ellison,” one of the patrolmen nodded. “We were around the corner when we got the call. What’s been going on here?”

Jim nodded, indicating the burglars. “They decided to break in to my neighbor’s apartment. They picked the wrong building.”

“Is your neighbor okay?”

“Yeah, she’s up in my apartment. Luckily for her, she realized someone was in her apartment. At the very least, these two would have given her a heart attack. Charge them with Breaking and Entering.”

“Will do, but she’ll need to come in and make a statement.” Jim nodded as Blair came to stand next to Jim, listening as one of the patrolmen pulled out his Miranda card, reading the two men their rights and the other took Jim’s and Blair’s statements.

“Can you radio for another car to pick her up and take her to the precinct?” Jim asked. “I’m on vacation and don’t want to go in to the PD. And I think she should probably spend the night with a relative.”

“No problem. We’ll have a car pick her up as soon as we get rid of these two.” The patrolmen pulled the burglars to their feet and escorted them out as Jim and Blair followed to make sure the patrolmen didn’t have any problems.

Once the patrol car pulled away, Jim and Blair headed back to the loft where Miss Murphy was waiting. As they climbed the stairs, Jim sniffed. “Something’s burning Chief,” he announced and Blair remembered his oysters.

“The dinner !” he squeaked and bounded up the stairs, opening the apartment door to find Miss Murphy pulling a smoking tray from the oven.

She looked up at the two men, fear and relief evident, as she placed the tray on the stove top and fanned the smoke with the oven mitt. Blair looked down at his ruined dinner with a dismal sigh and then back at Miss Murphy, forcing a smile as Jim went to the balcony and opened a door to air out the room.

“The police have the burglars in custody, Ma’am,” Jim said politely as he eased the woman around the kitchen island and into the living room where she could sit comfortably. “But you shouldn’t leave a key under the mat. It’s the first place burglars look.”

Miss Murphy nodded as she wiped tearful eyes and Blair produced a box of tissues. “In the meantime, a patrol car is coming to take you to the station and get your statement. Then they’ll bring you to one of your relatives.”

“Do you want me to call your nephew?” Blair asked, taking her hand. She nodded.

Fifteen minutes later, Miss Murphy was being escorted to the PD, where her nephew Patrick would meet her and take her to his home. Blair, watching the police help the elderly lady out, turned to Jim. “Her nephew said he’ll have her stay through Christmas.” Jim nodded hanging up his gun as Blair walked over to the stove and looked down at his ruined oysters. So much for his romantic dinner. “These can’t be salvaged Jim.” He shook his head and wondered if the fates were trying to tell him something.

Jim nodded, joining him to look at the blackened, shriveled oysters. “I’ll order Chinese.”

Blair agreed as he dumped the oysters in the garbage before putting the tray in the sink to soak. “I should have turned off the oven,” Blair muttered dejectedly.

“You were distracted,” Jim answered, hanging up the phone.

Blair nodded, looking over the dried-out bread before dumping it in the garbage too. “Sorry.” He waved his arm at the mess, his voice full of disappointment.

“Not your fault Chief. And it’s just a burnt meal.”

“Yeah, just a burnt meal,” Blair said despondently, before heading back to the sink and washing off the tray.

“We can still eat that chocolate cake,” Jim suggested and Blair turned back, letting go of his disappointment as a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth.

Okay, Blair decided it would be wine, Chinese food, chocolate cake, and mistletoe. “You are right,” Blair agreed. “And I opened the wine.” He picked up the glasses from the table and filled them, handing one to Jim. “To Christmas,” he toasted and clinked his glass with his sentinel’s.

“To Christmas,” Jim agreed.

They were on their second glass of wine, neither drunk but both feeling the effects of alcohol on their empty stomachs, when the Chinese food arrived. Grabbing plates before Jim could, to make sure that they were strategically placed, Blair set out the food as Jim carried in the bottle of wine and refilled both their glasses.

Chopsticks in hand, Blair was just waiting for Jim to serve the first morsel of food when Jim turned towards the door. “Simon’s here,” he announced, and stood walking over and opening the door before a knock could be heard.

Simon stood on the threshold, hand raised about to knock, a scowl on his face. Blair knew Simon disliked thinking about all things sentinel. Whenever anything came up about Jim’s senses, Simon’s first words were, “You deal with this, Sandburg.” So, Jim aware of Simon’s presence before he could knock, always unnerved the Captain.

“Hi Simon, come on in,” Jim invited. “We’re about to have Chinese food; want to join us?”

Blair watched Simon glance at the food with a sinking heart. He liked Simon, would be more than happy to share food with him at any other time, but he couldn’t do anything with the mistletoe in front of Simon.

“You sure you have enough?”

“Plenty,” Jim answered and Simon took off his coat, hanging it on one of the pegs near the door.

“I heard you stopped a burglary in progress and thought I’d check on you,” Simon explained, taking a seat as Blair brought over another plate.

“Wine?” he asked Simon.

“Got a beer maybe?” he answered and Blair nodded, glad he could save the other bottle for dessert, if Simon left.

The three men ate the meal, Jim and Blair relating the details of the earlier incident. “So that’s why Patrolman Patterson was talking about Sandburg’s frying pan,” Simon stated when they finished.

“What?” Blair asked, his voice an octave higher than usual as he spun to regard Simon.

“Yeah, talk around the station is you wield a mean frying pan. They’re calling you ‘Short Order Cook Sandburg.’ As a matter of fact, there was talk of getting you a few cooking utensils, but no one is stupid enough to leave things like that on Ellison’s desk.”

Blair groaned, shaking his head and both Simon and Jim smiled. “Don’t worry Chief, we won’t be back for another week and by then no one will even remember it.” Blair just shook his head and Jim reached over (under the mistletoe Blair noted dismally) to pat him on the back. “Come on Blair, they may tease you but they see you as brave. You were standing up against burglars who could have been armed-”

“Were armed,” Simon cut in. “They had twelve inch blades in their bags.”

Jim nodded, correcting himself. “Were armed, with a frying pan.”

“Jim’s right, Sandburg. The fact that you are willing to walk into a dangerous situation to back up Jim, with no weapon, impresses them.”

Blair glanced from one man to the other, running a hand through his long curls as he realized how Simon considered him. He always knew Jim thought he was brave, but it was kind of nice hearing it from Simon. He gave a tentative smile, feeling good despite all the setbacks, as Jim pushed back his plate and glanced at the fridge. “How about that chocolate cake? It will make a perfect dessert.”

“Chocolate cake?” Simon echoed, a smile lighting his face. Jim nodded as Blair felt his heart drop. This was the last piece of food in his little seduction scheme. “I picked the right night to stop by.” Blair didn’t want to answer that statement so, without a word, feeling completely frustrated as his plans were again foiled, Blair went to the fridge and pulled out the cake. Coming back to the table he put it down with a bit more force than necessary before going to get small dishes.

“Come on Sandburg,” Simon said with some amusement. “The guys are just letting off steam, calling you Short Order Cook. By the time you’re back at the PD, they’ll have moved on to some other thing,” Simon stated, misinterpreting Blair’s annoyance.

Blair paused, his back to Simon while he took a deep breath, glad Simon thought he was upset at the nickname. It wouldn’t do to have Simon know he had interrupted a carefully orchestrated seduction. Taking another breath, he turned and smiled. “You’re right,” he agreed as he came back, plates in hand, and took a seat.

The three men ate dessert talking about Simon’s plans for Christmas, and then the Police Captain wished them good night and left, carrying an extra slice of cake. Jim got up and brought the dishes to the sink, where he started washing the plates as Blair came over to join him picking up a towel to dry.

“Chief, you’re not really upset about the nickname are you?”

“No,” Blair answered with a sigh. “What Simon said was true; no one will remember when we get back.” He glanced at Jim’s hands, covered in soapy water, and considered what he could do to salvage his plans. He could, he supposed, just come out and admit what he had been trying to do, but he didn’t want to give Jim time to think. He just wanted Jim to react. Blair knew he would get a far more honest response and more likely a positive one that way, and could gauge his future with Jim by it.

He still had another bottle of wine in the offing and Jim would be home on Christmas Eve. Deciding he would either succeed on Christmas Eve or give up, he finished wiping the dishes before putting them away.

“Our dinner got ruined today, how about I take you out to dinner tomorrow?” Jim asked. “We could get reservations for Mario’s and come back and drink your eggnog afterward.”

“That would be nice,” Blair agreed. Mario’s was a small Italian restaurant just two blocks away. The only problem Blair could foresee with the plan was how to move the couch under the mistletoe. Jim would think he was crazy if he switched the table and the couch. He’d have to think of another way to get Jim under it or, if he dared, just grab the back of Jim’s neck and yank him down to kiss him somewhere else in the loft.

Finishing the dishes, Blair went to the drawer and dug out the number for Mario’s and made early evening reservations, before heading into the living room to review his syllabus for the coming term. Tomorrow, he decided, with nervous butterflies fluttering around in his stomach, was either do or die.

Later that night, while Jim cleaned his gun, something he did religiously once a week, vacation or not, Blair fantasized about how the next evening’s encounter would go. They would come back from Mario’s, slightly tipsy, and Blair would reach out and slide both his hands up Jim’s face in a sensual caress while looking into Jim’s clear blue eyes. He would see Jim’s acceptance in the sentinel’s eyes and slide his body against Jim’s, feeling Jim’s arousal. As much as he might like to, he couldn’t envision himself sweeping Jim up into his arms and carrying him up to the loft bed. Physically, he just wasn’t up to the task. But he could see himself kissing Jim, passionately, and moving to the sofa. Jim’s senses would be overwhelmed and he would swoon, falling back onto the cushions like some incredible feast before declaring his undying love for Blair. The two would spend the rest of Christmas Eve in each other’s arms before a crackling fire. It was a great fantasy as far as it went, but tomorrow Blair would have to find a way to turn it into reality.

Blair was still considering how to turn the fantasy into reality when Jim wished him good night and headed up to bed. Blair watched him go, thinking if things went right tomorrow night he would be sleeping in a bigger bed with someone who would keep him warm physically and emotionally.

Those thoughts lulled Blair to sleep, on the couch, and he woke early the next morning with a start. It was ridiculously early, six in the morning, but deciding this day was going to be special, he donned his coat and headed down to Collette’s bakery to get some fresh pastries to start the day. Jim had a tendency to rise early; Blair figured it was probably a habit developed during his stint in the army, so he set the coffee pot before going downstairs.

Collette’s was surprisingly busy despite the hour and Blair waited on line for ten minutes before buying some rich buttery cinnamon Danish and a few bagels for Christmas morning. Wishing the staff a Merry Christmas, he headed back up to the loft and had just plated the Danish when Jim came down the stairs, buttoning his shirt. Blair couldn’t help but look at the wide expanse of chest thinking “this will be mine,” before smiling and greeting Jim.

The sentinel looked at the food and smiled as he grabbed a cup of coffee. “Danish, Chief? I thought you frowned on pastries.”

“You know Jim, I am not a fanatic. It’s Christmas Eve man; enjoy.”

Blair watched as Jim bit into the pastry, his eyes following the food up to Jim’s mouth. He could see Jim close his eyes; letting his taste buds have free reign. It wasn’t something he saw often; Jim usually kept tight control over his senses. After the first bite, Jim took in a deep breath and opened his eyes to look at Blair. “Thanks. I don’t just mean for the pastry, Blair. I wouldn’t dare let my senses go if I didn’t know you were here.”

Blair smiled, his face lighting with joy. “Thanks, Jim,” he said quietly before looking back down into his coffee cup to hide how much the compliment had affected him. “I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“I guess I don’t say thank you enough,” Jim answered, reaching for his own coffee cup. “But I do appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

Blair nodded, thinking he wanted to do so much more. “You’re my sentinel,” he said at last. “Every sentinel had a companion, someone to watch his back. That’s my job.”

“I wouldn’t want anyone else at my back, Sandburg,” Jim said quietly, and Blair could hear the hesitancy in the statement. He knew Jim wasn’t good at admitting his feelings, so this confession was (in Blair’s mind) almost a declaration of love.

Lifting his cup, Blair held it out. “To us, watchman and companion?”

“To us,” Jim responded. “Sentinel, and what was it Brackett called you, Guide?”

“Sentinel and Guide,” Blair agreed, clinking their cups, feeling far more confident about this evening’s plans.

The day passed quickly despite the fact that neither man had much to do. Blair, deciding to set the stage, made a batch of eggnog heavily laced with rum and got the fireplace ready for the evening, while Jim relaxed reading a mystery novel. Just before leaving for Mario’s, Jim brought three carefully wrapped, brightly-colored boxes down from his closet, placing them near the fireplace. Blair, seeing the gifts, brought out his own boxes to sit beside them.

They walked to Mario’s; Jim’s eyes looking speculatively at the clouds overhead. “I know the weatherman said rain but it might end up being a white Christmas,” he told Blair, who looked up. “There’s a storm brewing and the temperature is dropping.”

Blair didn’t have to ask how Jim knew this, having worked with Jim to develop his awareness of climate, temperature and barometric pressure. These were all survival skills needed by tribes and fundamental abilities of a sentinel. Instead, he smiled at the idea. While it didn’t snow often in December in the Pacific Northwest, rain was more likely, they did upon occasion get snow. “That would be cool,” Blair answered and Jim chuckled.

“I thought you didn’t like the cold?”

“It’s Christmas,” Blair answered quietly. “It’s special, magical.”

Mario’s was packed, but because they had reservations Jim and Blair were shown to a quiet table in the corner. They opted for the Christmas Eve, Special; plates loaded with various kinds of fish and pasta, and drank down two bottles of wine with dinner, making them mellow and relaxed. The clouds had turned ominous by the time they left the restaurant and the first snowflakes were starting to fall. Blair could hear people greeting each other and talking about a white Christmas, most with a degree of excitement, some even singing the song as the snow landed on Blair’s hair. “Jim,” he stopped his friend. “What do you see when you look at a snowflake?” It was a strange question, one Blair would not normally ask. But the beauty of the moment, the snowfall, Christmas Eve, their day together, the possibility of a lifetime, and the wine loosened his tongue.

Jim stopped, his hand reaching up to hold a few strands of Blair’s hair where several snowflakes were resting. “If I dial up I can see the whole flake; its symmetry, its design. This little bit right here,” Jim indicated the small spot on Blair’s hair, “Is made up of at least 20 different patterns and so many different colors. It would be very easy to zone looking at snowflakes in your hair,” he admitted, his voice low.

Blair smiled nervously, finding Jim holding the few tendrils of hair so enticing. They were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, a block from home, and Jim was holding his hair, looking down at him with intense concentration.

Realizing that the food, the seductions and the mistletoe didn’t matter, that this was the magical moment, Blair looked up into Jim’s face and stepped closer. “Jim, I…” he paused for one moment scared, and then moved even closer. “I love you.” His heart was beating so fast, his stomach doing flip flops and the seconds seemed to stretch on forever. And then Jim leaned forward, closer.

“I love you too,” he answered and Blair didn’t know if he had moved forward to capture Jim’s lips or Jim had moved forward to capture his. It didn’t matter. What mattered was suddenly they were kissing, Blair’s arms around Jim’s waist as Jim gently cupped the back of Blair’s head, holding him close.

For Blair, it was a magical moment but also an epiphany. In the end it wasn’t about seduction, it was all about love. Finally, needing air, they separated. “Maybe, we should go back to the loft,” Jim’s voice sounded husky as he let his hand slide down Blair’s face, tenderly caressing it.

Blair nodded his agreement and reached for Jim’s hand, their fingers entwining. “I had this whole seduction planned,” Blair whispered, knowing Jim would hear him. “Food, wine, mistletoe, and none of it mattered.”

Chuckling, Jim glanced at his partner. “Chief, think. Why did I choose this week to take off?” and Blair after a moment realized what Jim meant.

“You took this week because you knew I’d be off from school and home.” They started walking again. “But you didn’t know what my schedule might be?” Blair questioned.

“No I didn’t,” Jim agreed. “But I also know you haven’t dated anyone in a while, and well, with you bringing in food, wine and mistletoe, I just hoped.”

Blair smiled remembering his fantasy, the two in each other’s arms on the sofa before a crackling fire. It looked indeed like his fantasy was going to come true. Gently squeezing the hand he was holding, he turned towards home, feeling both anxious to get there and reluctant to move from this special place.

But finally, smiling, the two continued on their way to the loft as Christmas snow fell.

The Way to a Man's Heart by Franscats - artwork by Beth

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