Christmas Countdown: December 2
For a police detective, Brian Rafe was awfully slow to become suspicious. Then again, Rhonda started the whole thing off and Simon’s assistant was hardly the type who came across as sneaky.
The department Christmas party was being held in the banquet room of a local restaurant. After hanging up his coat, Rafe was passing through the doorway on his way to the main room when a hand on his arm stopped him.
“Why, Detective Rafe,” Rhonda giggled, her sweet face rosy with a faint blush. “I do believe you owe me something.”
“What?” He asked, totally confused. He knew he’d chipped in his fair share for both the party and Simon Banks’ gift.
Rhonda looked above his head and Rafe followed her example. There, tacked to the wood of the doorframe, was a sprig of mistletoe.
“Oh,” Rafe stifled a groan. Rhonda was a nice lady, but not exactly the type he wanted to kiss. Still, it was the holiday season. “My apologies.”
He leaned down, intending to give the woman a chaste peck on the cheek. Rhonda cooperatively kept her face turned to the side until the very last minute. Just as Rafe was about to brush his mouth against her face, however, Rhonda turned and kissed him full on the lips in a manner that could hardly be described as virtuous. After she pulled back, in fact, Rafe could still taste her lipstick.
“Merry Christmas,” she said gaily as she melted into the crowd.
“Merry Christmas,” Rafe muttered darkly, safe in the knowledge that she couldn’t hear him.
Sighing, he resolved not to approach that doorway again unless no one was around. Cheering as he spotted the food table, he waved at a couple of colleagues as he hurried to fill his plate up.
“Hey there, Brian.” Joel Taggert greeted him as he too came over to eye the buffet. Still on his diet, Joel seemed to be most interested in the veggies. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Joel,” Brian responded with more enthusiasm that he’d used for Rhonda. “You’re lookin’ good.”
“Thanks, I’m feeling so much better too.” The captain had lost an amazing amount of weight. “But I need you to put your plate down.”
Brian lifted one eyebrow in surprise. While it was true that he’d chosen a number of goodies, it wasn’t like Joel to be catty.
“There’s nothing wrong with splurging a little during the holidays,” Brian said defensively.
Joel chuckled. “Nothing wrong with it at all, but that’s not the kind of splurging I’m talking about.”
The older man looked up and Brian got a bad feeling. Sure enough, there was another sprig of mistletoe hanging above the table.
In another department, two men sharing a mistletoe kiss would be frowned upon, if not downright suicidal. In Major Crimes, it would hardly cause a blink of an eye, not with Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg being so well-liked and admired and yet also such an obvious couple.
Giving in to the inevitable, Brian put his plate down and obligingly kissed Joel. Being the gentleman he was, Joel didn’t try any funny moves, just reciprocated by firmly pressing his lips to Rafe’s.
“Thank you,” Taggert spoke first after the kiss. He looked at the loaded buffet table and, shaking his head, put his plate aside. “You know what? After that kiss, nothing here could compare. I’ve had my treat for the night.”
Rafe smiled as the older man walked away. Kissing Joel was much closer to what he liked than Rhonda had been. Even so, he was glad he’d filled his own plate up; he’d be avoiding the food table for the rest of the evening. It wasn’t just the kissing, which hadn’t been onerous. Well, not directly about the kissing. Brian kept feeling like he was being watched, a sensation that he didn’t like at all.
Seeing Henry Brown and his wife, Charlotte, chatting in the corner, he moved to join them.
“Merry Christmas,” Rafe spoke as he neared the couple, both of them returning the greeting.
“Whoa there, partner,” Henry nodded at Brian’s food. “You eat all that and you’ll lose your girlish figure.”
Rafe glared at him. Henry had a laden plate of his own. “Last I looked, Char’s the one that’s supposed to be eating for two, not you.”
“He does have a point, honey,” Charlotte agreed with him, grinning affably as she patted her rounded, pregnant tummy.
“You always take his side,” Henry grumbled. “You forget who you’re married to, woman?”
“No chance of that, not with your son kicking me in the ribs every other breath,” she retorted, not at all concerned by Henry’s grousing.
“I’ve got me some virile seed,” Henry stated proudly. His face clouded in concern. “But maybe you should sit down and get off your feet.”
Charlotte glowed while her husband fussed over her, graciously allowing Henry to take her arm and attentively lead her to a nearby table. Rafe followed, almost bumping into the couple when they stopped suddenly.
“Henry, you did that on purpose,” Charlotte laughed, pointing at the ceiling where yet another small branch of mistletoe was fastened.
“Like I need an excuse,” her husband taunted. He kissed his wife with obvious tenderness, however.
“Thank you, dear,” she thanked him when it was over. To Brian’s surprise, however, she next turned to him. “Well?”
“Um, well what?” Rafe asked, even though he had a feeling he knew the answer.
Charlotte put one hand on her hip and just looked at him. Rafe grinned sheepishly. He put down his plate and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. He and Henry were almost like brothers, but there was no way he was going to kiss the man’s wife on the lips while Henry was right there.
It was really too bad for Rafe that Henry didn’t have a similar amount of discretion.
“My turn,” Brown cried happily when Rafe finished with Charlotte.
Before Rafe knew what was happening, Henry had grabbed him. Since he knew his partner was completely straight, Rafe had a hard time comprehending what was going on as Brown swept him into a deep dip before kissing him soundly.
“Now that’s a kiss,” Henry proclaimed as he set Rafe on his feet.
“I should say so,” Charlotte agreed, fanning herself with a napkin. Far from looking offended, she appeared as though she’d enjoyed the whole thing. . . and wouldn’t mind a repeat performance.
“You are a goofball, not to mention a menace to society.”” Rafe said archly as he smoothed his clothing back into place.
As Rafe tried to regain his composure, he noticed their boss, Simon Banks, watching. The big man’s face was expressionless and Rafe nearly groaned. That was so not the impression he wanted to give and especially not with Simon. With a last glare at Henry and a more civil word for his wife, Rafe picked his plate up, tossed it, and moved away.
By this time, Rafe had taken to keeping a wary eye on the ceiling, waiting for any ninja mistletoe sprigs to drop down on his head. Spying Megan standing by herself and sipping at a glass of white wine, he headed over. After, of course, checking to make sure the coast was mistletoe-free.
“Having a good time?” He asked her. Seeing that Megan’s expression was a little melancholy, he added, “It’s hard to be away from home for the holidays, isn’t it?”
“A little,” she admitted and then her face brightened. “Say, you’re just the man I was hoping to run into.”
“Really?” Rafe was cautious, but then mentally chided himself. Whatever was going on with Rhonda, Joel and Henry was beside the point; he’d already checked that they were standing in a mistletoe-free zone. “How come?”
“I’ve heard you Yanks have a sweet Christmas custom,” Megan explained. She dug into her pocket and pulled out something small and green. Grinning, she dangled it above his head. “Something to do with kissing when this is around.”
Rafe blew his bangs out of his eyes. He’d been a good sport with the others, but enough was enough. “You’ve got that wrong. When you’re under the mistletoe with someone, you’re supposed to kiss his ass.”
“Ah, ah, ah,” she chided, laughing. “I’m not that fresh off the boat, mate.”
“You want to tell me what the hell is going on?” Rafe demanded. “I cannot suddenly be that irresistible.”
Megan cocked her head to the side and made a show of looking him up and down. “Oh, I don’t know about that. Now, pucker up, I’ve mistletoed you fair and square.”
“Oh, for the love of-. . . .” Brian sputtered.
While his mouth was open, Megan darted forward and kissed him. With tongue. Rafe was too much of a gentleman to throw her off.
“Mmmm. . . .” She murmured after she was done. “Very nice.”
Rafe felt eyes on him again. Looking around, he saw Simon Banks once more observing his every move, that expressionless look on his face. Rafe groaned. He didn’t really mind if there was some sort of practical joke going on; Lord knew he’d participated in enough himself. He did resent, however, being made a fool of in front of Simon.
“Thanks a lot,” he snapped, eyes busy as he looked for a safe place to retreat.
There was a group of people by the door he’d come in through, no doubt he’d be cluster kissed if he tried to exit that way. The side of the room with the buffet table was out for the same reason, as was the corner that the Browns were nestled in. That left the exit out onto the deck. Rafe angrily shrugged off Megan’s arm as he stalked away. He was a little angry and hurt, but mostly embarrassed.
The cool outdoor air felt good to his flush-warmed cheeks and Rafe felt himself relax. The weather wasn’t overly cold, just enough to keep the less hardy souls inside. Brian walked to the railing that framed the edge of the deck and leaned on it heavily, the noise from the party going on inside faded to a faint buzz of voices and tinkling glasses.
“Rough night, huh?”
Rafe was startled, he’d thought he was alone. He turned to find Jim Ellison approaching him and relaxed a little. Ellison was too uptight to be a part of whatever practical joke was going on.
“You could say that,” he finally replied. Shaking off his melancholy, Rafe turned to the other detective. “I’m surprised to see you here; I didn’t think parties were your thing.”
Ellison snorted. “Oddly enough, since hooking up with Sandburg, I find myself doing a lot of stuff that isn’t my thing.”
Rafe suppressed a grin. He wasn’t particularly enjoying the party, but he did want to survive until its end and antagonizing Jim Ellison would put that outcome in jeopardy.
“You have mellowed a lot,” he commented carefully.
“You could say that,” Jim replied, echoing Rafe’s earlier words. “Sometimes at these parties, though, I just need to go somewhere quiet and recharge my batteries.”
“I hear that,” Rafe agreed wholeheartedly.
The two men stood in silence, leaning against the deck rail. Eventually Blair Sandburg’s voice could be made out about the general party hubbub, although Rafe couldn’t make out the words. It didn’t matter to Ellison. He shook himself and rose.
“I guess I better get inside before he comes out here looking for me,” Ellison stated. He shrugged almost apologetically and looked above Brian’s head. “But first. . . .”
Rafe lifted his head. He was standing under an overhang from the roof, but the deck wasn’t lighted and he couldn’t see anything. “Oh, don’t tell me. . . .”
Jim reached over and flicked on a switch, bathing the deck in harsh, artificial light. Rafe blinked and, when he could see again, his eyes unerringly went to the hated sight of a mistletoe sprig.
“Not you too,” Rafe whined.
Jim smiled faintly. “I’m afraid so.”
Rafe remained leaning against the deck rail, having too much pride to duck as Jim Ellison leaned in. The kiss from the older man was surprisingly tender, the faintest of brushes against his lips. When it was over, Rafe found him sighing in regret. Blair Sandburg was one hell of a lucky man.
“Come on,” Ellison encouraged him. “Let’s both head back inside. It’s cold out here.”
Sighing again, Rafe allowed himself to be lead inside. The noise and warmth of the room was almost a physical slap and, almost immediately, Brian felt the sensation of eyes on him again. As he studied the room, though, Rafe couldn’t figure out what was causing that. Henry and his wife were still in the corner and Joel had joined them. Megan was talking to Rhonda. When she saw Rafe looking at her, she lifted her wine glass towards him. He nodded back at her and, forgiven, she grinned.
“There you are.”
Rafe turned to see Blair Sandburg standing next to him. Jim immediately put an arm around the younger man and gave him a kiss that made it clear that the few minutes the two lovers had been parted had been far too long for Ellison’s taste. Rafe’s smile as he observed was bittersweet.
Until Blair turned to him.
“Okay, Rafe, time to give it up, man.” Blair’s grin was almost incandescent.
Rafe took a closer look at him. Blair was wearing a corduroy blazer in a deep holly red, no doubt thinking that was the type of thing that academics were supposed to wear. That wasn’t what caught Rafe’s attention, though. His eyes were immediately drawn to the small splash of green adorning Blair’s lapel.
Sandburg was a walking sprig of mistletoe.
“Oh, hell, no,” Brian muttered as he backed up. He glanced at Ellison. “I don’t have a death wish.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Blair cajoled as he stepped forward. “The mistletoe tradition is one of the few in American society where kissing is encouraged. Indulge a little, Jim won’t mind.”
Rafe looked at Ellison. The man’s hands were clenched at his side and the veins of his neck stuck out, so when Jim nodded in apparent agreement with Blair, Rafe found it less than convincing.
“No way,” Rafe backed up some more. He had a feeling that it wouldn’t be visions of sugarplums dancing in his head when he went to sleep. Rather, it would be a veritable army of mistletoe sprigs, chasing him.
“Pucker up,” Blair grinned, not giving up the chase.
The way that Sandburg glanced over Rafe’s shoulder should have been a warning. Rafe was so determined on eluding the determined grad student, however, that he didn’t notice. He also didn’t notice where he was going. That is, until he backed right into a solid, warm presence. From Sandburg’s giggle, there was only one person it could be.
“Oh, shit,” Rafe breathed, closing his eyes and waiting to die of embarrassment.
Instead of the floor opening up and swallowing him, however, a large hand was placed on the small of Rafe’s back, offering unexpected support.
“The man said no,” Simon Banks’ voice was a low rumble. “No means no, Sandburg, even to you.”
Blair shrugged. “What can I say? Rafe’s a mistletoe magnet tonight, everybody wants a taste.” He leered. “And I can see why. He’s one hot little Christmas package, just waiting to be unwrapped.”
Rafe’s mouth dropped in surprise. What the hell was Blair doing? He turned, anxious to defend his honor to Simon.
“Captain Banks, I’m not really sure what’s going on,” Rafe tried to explain. Simon just stared at him blankly. Licking his lips nervously, Brian tried again. “Honest to God, I don’t know why people keep pouncing on me with the mistletoe.”
Simon held up a hand, abruptly cutting him off. “Sandburg, hand over the mistletoe.”
“Aww, Simon, we were just having some fun,” Blair protested.
The captain snapped his fingers and held out his hand. With a sigh, Blair unpinned the mistletoe and dropped it into Banks’ hand.
Simon held up the small, green sprig and studied it. Then moving slowly and deliberately, he held it up over Brian Rafe’s head.
Not sure he was seeing things right, Rafe gaped at him. “Simon?”
”It’s worked for everyone else tonight, I thought I’d see if it’d work for me,” Simon’s smile was wide, but Rafe could see a hint of uncertainty behind it.
“Well, I guess you’ll just have to try it and see,” Rafe stated quietly.
Moving slowly and not breaking eye contact with Rafe, Simon leaned it and gently brushed his lips against Brian’s. The touch, tender as it was, felt electric. Moaning and opening his mouth, Rafe leaned into the kiss, needing to wrap his arms around Simon for support. He felt rather than saw Simon carelessly toss the mistletoe away. All Rafe was aware of were those strong arms coming up to wrap around him, the embrace making him feel every bit as warm and secure as he always dreamed it would.
When the two men broke apart, they found that the party had come to a complete stop. Their friends and colleagues had come to stand in a loose circle around them, and as Rafe and Simon looked at each other with dazed eyes, the crowd broke out in hoots and applause.
“It’s about damn time, Simon,” Jim Ellison slapped Simon on the back, eyes crinkling as he grinned widely. A small, impish part of Rafe wondered if that was in true happiness for his friends’ sake or if Ellison was just relieved to get that damn mistletoe sprig off his own lover.
“We knew you’d never make the first move,” Blair was bouncing back on his heels. “So we made it kind of impossible for you to ignore how kissable Brian was.”
Simon huffed, but he slid one arm around Rafe’s waist, pulling him close. “Trust me, I noticed that a hell of a long time ago.”
“Yeah, but it was killing both of you when you wouldn’t act on it,” Henry Brown pointed out. He had his arms wrapped around his wife and addressed his next words to Rafe. “Sorry that this was so hard on you, partner.”
“That’s okay,” Rafe was feeling magnanimous since he was in Simon’s arms. “I like how it turned out.”
“Merry Christmas,” Blair said softly.
The rest of the crowd echoed his words.
“Come on, people, nothing more here to see,” Jim Ellison stated briskly, making a shooing motion with his hands. “Move along, move along.”
Suddenly finding themselves alone in the middle of a crowded room, Rafe shyly looked up at Simon. “I guess we have a lot to talk about.”
Simon kissed him again. “And maybe some things to do that don’t involve a lot of talking”
Rafe shivered and let himself be led from the room. As they walked through the doorway, Brian spied the original sprig of mistletoe and he reached to take it down. Simon’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“Leave it,” the older man said. “We don’t need it anymore. Maybe there are some other fools here that need a Christmas shove.”
Laughing softly, Rafe nodded. Simon was right; they wouldn’t need any Christmas greenery to give them a reason to kiss.
And if he dreamt about mistletoe that night, Rafe knew it wouldn’t be a nightmare.
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