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Title: For the Children
Summary: Blair's Halloween project grows bigger than he expected.
Style: Gen
Size: 3,110 words, about 6 pages in MS Word
Warnings: None
Notes: Written October 2005, for the Sentinel Secrets challenge of "Halloween".
Feedback: Not necessary, but comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org





For the Children

by StarWatcher





Friday, Oct. 10th

"Say, Jim, can I borrow the truck for a few hours tomorrow?"

Blair had chosen the right moment to distract his friend -- a commercial for cat litter didn't hold anyone's attention -- but Jim still gave him the lifted eyebrow routine. "Why, Sandburg? Your classic rattletrap seemed to be running just fine when you drove in this evening."

Blair shook his head in mock sorrow. "Jim, do you really think that you should keep casting aspersions on my choice of vehicles? Your sixty-nine truck wasn't born yesterday."

"It's not the age, it's the action," he intoned pontifically. "At least my truck acts like a sprightly teenager; your car acts like a decrepit dowager."

"Ageism, Jim!" Blair sighed dramatically. "I'm shocked -- shocked I tell you! -- to hear such ugly words coming out of your mouth. With a little TLC, my 'decrepit dowager' will carry me faithfully for the next ten years. With your driving record, your sprightly teenager will be toast by next summer."

"Sandburg, let me explain something to you. When one man requests a favor of another man, it is counter-productive for the first man -- you -- to diss the habits and activities of the second man -- me. It might cause the second man to deny the first man's request, no matter how reasonable it may be, without even hearing what the request is. You think you might want to reconsider your words?" His eyes twinkled at his friend.

Blair wrestled the wide grin that tried to hijack his lips under control, and projected a credible -- if he did say so himself -- simulation of outrage. "Blackmail? That you, an officer of the law, would stoop so low is just... just sad, Jim." He shook his head again, and drew 'hauteur' around him like a cloak. "It is beneath my dignity to respond to such threats. Never mind; if I have to make three trips in the Volvo, so be it. I'm sure I'll be able to forgive you... in time." He swung on his heel to stalk out of Jim's presence and, incidentally, to allow the broad smile to break free.

"Yeah, yeah, save it for the fishes," Jim retorted amiably. "Seriously, Sandburg, what do you need the truck for that the Volvo can't do?"

"Oh, man, we've got this big project lined up." Blair swung back and sat on the opposite couch, leaning forward and transmitting his enthusiasm with sparkling eyes. "One of the TAs mentioned that a lot of kids in long-term care are stuck in the hospital over Halloween. The hospital staff make a holiday fuss at Christmas and Easter, to make them feel not so isolated, but Halloween kinda gets overlooked. So we decided we'd decorate a bunch of pumpkins and give each kid his very own Halloween pumpkin. Cool, huh?"

Jim was dubious, though he hated to dampen Blair's excitement. "I dunno, Chief. Seems to me that a jack-o-lantern would be a prime breeding ground for germs, and some kids might even be allergic. Will the hospital allow it? And how many is 'a bunch'?"

"No, man, not a problem." He waved off the objections with a careless hand. "I said 'decorate', not 'carve'. We'll use whole pumpkins -- they'll stay fresh a lot longer -- and decorate them with paint and markers, maybe glue stuff on to make faces or characters or animals. We checked with the hospitals and it's not against policy, so that's okay. And right now, between the three hospitals, there's a hundred and twenty-nine kids who'll probably still be there on Halloween. We have two teaching fellows and four TAs in the project, so that's twenty-one-and-a-half pumpkins apiece. But we each figure to do twenty-five, so we'll be sure to have enough if any more kids are on the wards by then."

"I don't see the problem, Chief, except maybe you finding time to decorate all those, but that's your lookout. You should be able to get twenty-five pumpkins in the trunk and back seat, unless you're going for the giant ones."

"Well..." His grin turned a bit sheepish. "Two of the TAs don't have cars; I said I'd pick them up and we could all go out to the Pumpkin Patch together. They charge half the price of what the stores do, and we'll have a greater size selection. The stores seem to carry only the really small hand-sized ones, or the really big armful-sized ones. We need pumpkins that are big enough to decorate, but small enough for little hands to hold them, and to set on the nightstand beside them. Even so, seventy-five just won't fit in the Volvo..." He let his words trail off, and waited expectantly.

Jim surrendered; the commercial break was almost over. "Okay, Sandburg, the truck is all yours tomorrow. Although," he pointed a warning finger, "if it's damaged, I'll take it out of your hide." He noted with amusement that Sandburg couldn't quite mask his relief; had the kid really thought he'd say 'no'? "Just tell me... what's her name?"

"Who?"

"The one who came up with this idea. I know you, Sandburg; it had to be a girl."

Blair's look of wounded offence got no reaction; his friend simply waited for an answer. "Okay, okay; it was Cindy. Big brown eyes and the friendliest girl you'd ever want to meet. But that's beside the point; it's still a good idea that will help brighten some kids' lives a little bit, you know?"

Jim's lips quirked with mild amusement. "You're right, Sandburg; I'm sure they'll enjoy it. You know, some day you'll make a great daddy." With that astonishing pronouncement, he dismissed the matter from his mind and turned back to the TV.



Monday, Oct. 13th

Jim listened in amusement as the whispers passed around the bullpen while he worked diligently to finish his report. Once again, the grapevine had proved to be faster than the most modern method of communication. As the news traveled from Megan to Rhonda, to Henri and Rafe, and then to Dills, Johnson, and Garcia, Jim idly wondered what kind of reception Blair would get once he reached Major Crime. He glanced at the clock. Well, just two hours, and he'd have his answer.




Blair walked through the doorway right on time, calling greetings to everyone he saw. He had barely deposited his backpack beside Jim's desk, and was just removing his coat, when Henri advanced on him.

"Hairboy! What kind of friend keeps all the fun for himself? It ain't cool to keep your brothers away from the action."

Blair gaped. "What are you talking about, H? I don't have any action to keep you away from."

Megan joined the little group. "He means your Halloween project, Sandy. It sounds like fun; we'd like to help. Halloween is a time for kids, and since we don't have any, this is a chance to connect with them."

"Yeah," Rafe affirmed as he walked up. "We figure we could each decorate two or three pumpkins, take some of the work off your hands, and maybe have a contest when they're all finished to judge who did the best, and the funniest, and like that."

Blair stared at his friends as Rhonda assured him, "We've got it all planned, Blair. We can set up a long table over there," she pointed to the wall next to the copy machine, "and put them all on display as we finish them. Simon has agreed to judge the contest before you deliver them to the hospitals. So, what do you say?"

"Well..." Blair eyed the group around him, then looked out across the bullpen; several other detectives seemed to be watching and waiting for his answer. "How many of you want to join in?" Nine hands shot into the air. Blair did some rapid mental calculations. "Okay. I really appreciate the help, but I should spread it around. S'pose I collect some of the pumpkins from the others; if you'll all decorate four, that'll give each of us six less to deal with. Sound good?"

Assurances were pouring in from all sides when Captain Banks, watching from the doorway of his office, judged it a good time to send his people back to work. He accomplished that with a loud, "Ahem!" and watched in satisfaction as his detectives returned to their desks.

Shaking his head in bemusement, Blair shelved the pumpkin logistics for later and slid into his chair at Jim's desk. "So, Jim, what's on the agenda for this afternoon?"

"Glad you're here, Chief. I keep thinking I may have missed something in the Bellars' house; I'd like to go through it again. I'll need you to ground me, and help with the senses. You up to it?"

"All the way, man; you know I'll always have your back." He grabbed his coat and backpack and followed his sentinel out the door.



Monday, Oct. 20th

After supper, Blair had covered the table with newspapers and spread out his supplies -- paint and glue, markers, yarn, felt, glitter, poster-board and various odds and ends that Jim didn't even recognize. He merely felt grateful that Blair had searched for -- and found -- 'hypoallergenic' paints and markers; they had a reduced odor that was easier on his senses. Still, he turned his mental dial down a notch so that he wouldn't have to smell them, and settled on the couch to watch a 'mystery', accompanied by acid commentary of the depicted 'police procedures', which Blair ignored with the ease of long practice.

During the commercial break, Jim rose to grab a beer. He stopped near the table for a moment, watching Blair at work. The current pumpkin had eight fuzzy pipe cleaners stuck into it, angled up and bent over to form a spider's legs. Blair had glued white poster-board eyes and fangs onto a large circle of black fake fur, and was now gluing that to the side of the pumpkin. Simple, but effective, Jim decided.

"So, Sandburg, what number is this one?"

"Twelve, Jim; only seven more to go." He spoke without looking up. "I'll make it easily. Are you sure you don't want to try your hand at one? It's really kind of satisfying, creating something for kids."

"I catch bad guys, Chief; that's satisfaction enough." He continued his journey to the fridge, grabbed a beer, and ambled back to the couch to catch the second half of the movie.

Blair set number twelve aside to let the glue dry, and picked up number thirteen. He chewed his lip as he examined it from all sides, searching for inspiration on how to decorate this one. Maybe... a vampire. He reached for the black paint and went to work.



Friday, Oct. 24th

For the past ten days, Blair had watched, with a touch of amused awe, as the decorated pumpkins appeared on the display table. Now forty sat waiting for Captain Banks to pronounce the winners. As Blair surveyed the witches and goblins, the cats, bats, ghosts and various other Halloween figures, he was amazed at the talent that some of the detectives had shown in their efforts to bring a bit of pleasure to sick children who were unknown to them. He wondered idly if he could persuade some of his friends to join the adult art classes at the Community College; such talent should be encouraged. But that was for another day.

Some of them, on the other hand, seemed a little less appropriate. Blair nudged Megan, who was standing next to him. "Why a mouse?" he whispered, staring at big eyes and ears and a whiskery snout, crafted from felt and glued in place. "That's not very Halloween-y."

"Not a mouse!" she whispered back. "It's an Australian pygmy possum; they're very cute, and often used in artwork at home. We don't celebrate Halloween down under, so I thought I'd give one of the little tin lids a taste of a different culture."

Ooo-ka-a-ay, he thought with a mental shrug, but refrained from saying anything else.

At precisely four o'clock, the door to the Captain's office opened and Simon Banks approached the contest entries with suitable gravity. He chewed his cigar as he paced in front of the table, examining each pumpkin carefully, occasionally tipping one back or turning it from side to side to evaluate the quality of the artistry. Once in awhile, he jotted something on the notepad he was carrying. The members of the bullpen held their collective breaths as they awaited their captain's pronouncement.

Finally, Simon turned toward the gathered crowd. He surveyed them solemnly for a moment, then smiled broadly. "Gentlemen!" he boomed, "…And ladies," he added, with a nod toward Megan and Rhonda, "you've all done extremely well. Some little child will be very pleased to get any of these pumpkins; you can be proud of the effort you've put into your art. However, we have only a limited number of prizes to hand out, deserving though each entrant may be. So without further ado..." He consulted his notebook.

"The 'silliest' prize goes to Henri's hula dancer." He raised an eyebrow at Henri's beaming smile. "H, 'fat orange' and 'hula dancer' just don't mesh well, but I salute your ingenuity."

"Now, Captain, if she was real, that lady could really shimmy," Henry opined, beaming fondly at his creation with its plastic-grass skirt, small lei draped around a nonexistent neck, and two painted walnut shells in lieu of coconut breast-cups. "And she'd be a nice cuddly armful, if you know what I mean." He winked and elbowed Rafe, to make sure his partner caught the joke.

Captain Banks spoke a little louder, to override the heartfelt groans from the detectives around him. "The prize for 'nostalgic' goes to Rhonda's hippie girl. She may well be the hit of the ward," he suggested, surveying the painted big blue eyes, bright smile, and the yellow flowers tastefully adorning the fibrous hair, some of which had been braided with beads and feathers. "I can see that you put a lot of work into her."

"Thank you, Captain. I am rather proud of her," Rhonda said with her normal quiet composure, but a pleased smile.

The announcements continued as, perhaps not coincidentally, each participant received some kind of prize. Rafe's green-snake-haired medusa tied with Garcia's scowling, big-toothed monster as 'scariest' pumpkins, and Megan's green-skinned witch was judged 'most traditional'. The big, burly Johnson bowed ironically among the teasing catcalls as his Raggedy Ann, complete with orange-yarn hair and sitting on a white ruffled collar, was declared the 'sweetest' design. The 'funkiest' award went to Dills' big-nosed clown, eerily enhanced with a spider in its frizzy green hair.

By now, Simon was sounding like a carnival barker as he proclaimed the last of the prizes. "The award for 'most contemporary' goes to Sandburg's soldier. I like the camouflaged doo-rag," he told a grinning Blair, "but I suspect that the dog-tags better not be Jim's."

"Uh, no, Simon; Army surplus," he assured the captain. "I think some boy will like to have 'real soldier tags', you know? I just hope he never has to use them." Blair glanced at Jim as he spoke, mutely extending sympathy for what his friend had endured in the past, which Jim acknowledged with a small shrug and a wry twist of his lips.

"And finally," Simon consulted his notebook one last time, "the prize for 'best secret entrant and action figure' goes to Ellison's pirate. But tell me," he asked slyly, "does the hearing in the extra big ears make up for having only one eye?"

Blair's eyes widened as he stared at his friend. "Jim! How... I mean, when... I mean, I thought you weren't interested."

"Not in mass-production like you set up, Sandburg." Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "But one was kind of fun; like you said, it's for the children. And besides, it was worth it to see your face." He snickered and aimed a swat at Blair's head, which his friend easily avoided. "I admit it's been a while, but I think I can remember what kids like."

"Yeah, man, it looks like it." Blair examined the pirate more closely, taking note of the eye-patch, and the plastic dagger held within sharpened teeth. "I gotta say, I'm impressed."

"So, ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the judging," Simon announced. "I've decided on a democratic approach to the prizes -- choose your own." With that, he lifted a large napkin from the end of the table to reveal a plate heaped with an assortment of candy bars. "Have one, people; you've earned it."

As the plate passed from hand to hand, each person selecting his or her favorite chocolaty indulgence, Simon spoke again. "And finally, one last award -- an honorable mention to the man who instigated this little bit of fun and frivolity. Blair -- for helping each of us to connect with our 'inner child', and for working to bring a little ray of happiness to children who need it -- thank you. I think you've done more good than you know." He solemnly presented the stunned young man with a giant, economy-sized Mr. Goodbar as the assembled detectives clapped and cheered.



Sunday, Oct. 26th

Blair breezed into the loft, tossed the keys in the basket, and hung his coat on the hook. "Hey, Jim. Man, it is nippy outside; real Fall weather. Do I smell coffee?"

Jim replied without looking up from his book. "Yeah, Sandburg, fresh-perked. I figured you'd be home around now. Bring me a cup, too."

"What, am I your maid?" he groused good-naturedly as he crossed to the kitchen to fill two cups.

"No; call it payment for truck-rental, and remember that you got off easy. Did you get them all delivered?"

Blair handed one cup to his friend and sat down on the opposite couch. "Sure did. I felt sorry for all those kids stuck in the hospital over a holiday, but their eyes really lit up when we passed out the pumpkins. I think we did good."

"I know you did good, Chief. You give your heart and soul to everything you do... and sometimes I even appreciate it." Jim winked at Blair's open-mouthed expression.

Blair rallied quickly. "I'm glad you feel that way, Jim; I thought maybe the mess and disruption might be too much for you. But since it didn't bother you, I've been thinking, maybe for Christmas..."

"Sandburg!"



The End



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