Disclaimer and Notes: Not mine, never will be, but oh what fun to play in the sandbox. Written for the 2010 SGA Big Bang. Thanks to Mab, Julia_here, knitty_woman, and magician113 for the beta and to LA Adolf for the cheerleading. Thanks, ladies — this wouldn't be the story it is without your many insightful comments, corrections, and suggestions! Thanks also to technoshaman for the answers to random questions. Sequel to Unexpected Delivery (Love's a Surprise Slash Remix), but stands alone.
Rated NC-17 for graphic m/m sex and adult situations.
Art by zelempa.
By Raine Wynd
Sunday, June 8, 2003
William stared at the building that housed his son's loft, struck by indecision for a moment. He knew he should've called ahead; undoubtedly, Jimmy — no, Jim, he'd insisted the last time they'd spoken — undoubtedly Jim was busy, perhaps even working today. Just because it was a Sunday didn't mean Jim had the day off, but William hoped his son's seniority as a detective meant he was not subject to any sort of mandatory weekend work.
As a father living in the same city, William knew he should know his son's schedule better than he did. Yet even after saving his father's life, Jim remained a cautious distance away — distance William knew it was his turn to cross.
Shaking off the hesitation, William got out of his luxury sedan and headed up. He needed answers, and William knew the only way he was going to get them was to come here.
To his surprise, the security on the building had apparently undergone an upgrade since he'd last visited. Now, the entrance to the condo units was securely locked, with a beefier-looking door, key card access, and the old telephone entry system had been upgraded to a newer digital unit. A sign warned visitors that they were being recorded on video and directed package couriers to the real estate office next door. Eyeing the system, William read the instructions, picked up the receiver, then keyed in his son's unit number. He didn't see the nondescript woman in the real estate office in the corner of the building noting his arrival in a notebook as she sat, enjoying a pastry and coffee.
Jim had been dreading this for weeks, aware that he'd been procrastinating. While he and his father had come to a friendlier understanding since the attempt on his father's life, Jim wasn't entirely sure his father would accept these latest developments. Men of William's generation, Jim had found, didn't always have an open mind about homosexuality. Added to that was the fact that Jim suspected he would get a lecture, albeit belated about preventing unwanted pregnancy. As if Jim didn't already know how. If that weren't enough, Cody was a Sentinel — and while William had accepted Jim's gifts, Jim wasn't entirely certain how his father would handle learning they were, indeed, genetic, as Blair claimed. It was simply easier to avoid topics and situations that would set his father off.
To his relief, Blair hadn't pushed…but Jim had been focused on trying to make sure Blair hadn't felt neglected, either. The day Jim had come home with Cody had been the same day Blair had chosen to take their relationship to a more intimate level , planning a surprise for Jim when he came home from that fateful trip to Spokane — and Jim couldn't help but feel guilty that his new lover had been the one surprised.
Jim didn't want to upset the balance they'd achieved in five weeks. They were taking their relationship slowly, largely because keeping up with a six-month-old baby, and one with Sentinel sensitivities to boot, meant they were both running low on sleep. At Blair's insistence, Jim had taken paternity leave, citing the need for Jim to bond with his son. Jim had asked for three weeks; after congratulating him for becoming a dad, Simon had given him an additional four, saying that under the circumstances, Jim needed as much time as his captain could give.
Blair, however, still had to work, as he had neither seniority nor enough of a financial cushion to spare the time as anything other than unpaid. Nor would his pride allow Jim to pay for more than Blair's share of the expenses. As he'd long ago negotiated the ability to telecommute, Blair was home more than he was at the precinct or in the field, so both Jim and Blair had had the chance to connect with Cody even as they connected with each other. This particular afternoon, though, Blair had been called out to consult on one of Rafe's cases, and Jim didn't expect him home until dinner at the earliest.
Now, Jim found himself wishing he had Blair with him. Dealing with his father always left Jim feeling like he would never be good enough. Taking a deep breath, Jim reminded himself that he'd taken on deadlier opponents than his father and survived. Yet Jim couldn't help feeling ill prepared for this particular confrontation, and mentally chastised himself for seeing his father as an enemy. William wasn't one…yet.
Opening the door, he let his father into the loft. William stepped inside, his gaze sweeping the room and immediately zeroing in on the space Jim had designated as Cody's play area. The toys there were a dead giveaway, Jim knew.
For a moment, William's breathing stuttered. Stomach sinking, Jim realized someone must've told him. Thanks to a chance run-in at the natural grocery store, Steven had known about his nephew since the day Jim had come home with Cody; he'd even helped put the baby furniture together and had babysat several times since. Yet Steven knew Jim wasn't ready to let their father know, and had promised not to tell. Jim didn't doubt his brother had held to that. That meant someone else had seen Jim with Cody and told William.
William walked towards the toys, then stopped. Turning, he took a seat in the nearest part of the couch and faced his son. "So it's true, then," William said. "You're raising a child."
Jim looked at him, wondering — as he always had — why his father had never been able to find him good enough for anything. Even after Jim had saved his life, William had continued to vacillate between acceptance and rigid adherence to the same principles he'd advocated while Jim had been a child. Barely resisting the urge to cross his arms, Jim kept them at his sides and joined his father on the couch, facing him.
"Your partner's, I presume." William's voice was stiff — disapproval or reserve, Jim wasn't entirely sure.
"Would it matter if it was Blair's?" Jim demanded irritably.
"No, of course not," William said, sounding surprised by the question. "I just thought you would have told me personally." Hurt flashed across his lined face.
Jim rolled his eyes. "Sorry, but we decided not to have a baby shower."
"Is that all you think I'm good for?" William shot back. "Gifts?"
"No, Dad," Jim said tiredly. "You just always make me feel like I'm a screw-up every time we spend five minutes together, and I'm sick of it. You do it to Steven too."
"Jimmy — "
"Don't call me Jimmy; you make me feel like I'm eight years old. I told you, I prefer Jim."
Hearing his son wake from his early afternoon nap, Jim rose. Not caring if his father followed or not, Jim walked into Blair's former bedroom and headed for Cody in his crib. Recognizing him, Cody's green eyes lit up with joy as he said, "Da!"
"That's my boy," Jim said, smiling as he picked him up. Jim felt shock go through his father as he turned, presenting the black-haired boy face-first to William. "Dad, this is Cody. My son."
For a heartbeat, William lost his breath. All the hardness in the older man's face fled. "He looks a lot like you did, when you were that young," William said softly. "Did you know he was coming?"
"His mother didn't let me know she was pregnant." Ignoring the shocked gasp his words produced, Jim settled Cody into a more comfortable position. Jim then carried his son out of the room and placed him into the play area. Seating Cody at the musical jungle activity toy, Jim sat down nearby to help him play.
William stared at them for an endless moment, absorbing the interaction, before easing himself into the nearest chair. "Why wouldn't she tell you?"
Wearily, Jim said, "I don't know."
"You didn't date her long, then?"
"No." Jim waited, half-expecting to be condemned for trusting a woman or for the failure of the condoms.
To his surprise, his father sighed. "I did the same thing with your mother," he admitted. "Grace hated knowing you were proof that condoms didn't always work. She was convinced there were better methods, and we tried them all. Then she got pregnant with Steven and gave up." William laughed mirthlessly. "That's when she decided she wanted a career."
Blinking, Jim didn't know what to say.
"When did you know about Cody?" William asked quietly.
Cody crowed in delight as a ball came out of one of the chutes of the toy. He picked up the ball and repeated what he'd seen Jim do, and crowed again as the same thing happened. Pride swelled in Jim as he saw new evidence of his son's growth, and he took a moment to savor it before he replied to his father.
"When Child Protective Services gave him to me five weeks ago," Jim said finally. "Kate, his mother, died in a car accident, and it took them six weeks to figure out that Cody should go to me."
Jim glanced up in time to see his father's puzzled expression. "You weren't notified of her death after it happened?"
"Because of your…partner."
Picking up the nuances in his father's voice, Jim studied him a moment. "Blair's my partner, but he had nothing to — "
"He loves you very much, you know," William interrupted, his voice firm. It was almost as if he expected Jim to have somehow missed that fact. "Better man for you than any two-bit, selfish woman who only wanted you as a sperm donor. Any woman who won't tell a man he's a father was only looking to get pregnant — not a good woman in my book. You'd better keep him happy. I don't want to lose my grandson because some social worker heard you two had problems. Now I know they can be vicious — they tried to tell me I couldn't raise you and Steven alone. Hmpf."
Jim's eyes widened. "Dad?" he ventured cautiously.
"Didn't believe old man Parsons when he said he saw you and your partner in the grocery store with a baby. He's always been a gossip. Why, he was saying you and Blair were shacking up long before now, but I told him to mind his own business — you were friends. William's eyes sharpened on his son. "You didn't tell me about your relationship with him, either. Did you think I wouldn't approve?"
Jim stared at him, incredulous. "Every time we've had dinner together, all I've ever heard you say about Blair made me think you didn't like him."
William laughed ruefully. "Didn't want to," he admitted. "That was before I heard you brought him back from the dead, before I saw him lie for you on TV. Then I was mad at you for letting him sacrifice his career. You told me Blair helped you with your senses — I didn't realize just how much he'd done." William let out a breath. "Steven set me straight on that. Wish you'd come to me — I could've helped more."
"It's over. People have forgotten," Jim said darkly.
"Have they?" William demanded. "Or have they just moved on to something else? Are you getting any flak about your relationship with Blair?"
Jim decided that if his father was in a generous mood, he was not going to ruin it. "Nothing we can't handle."
William met his son's gaze. "I pushed you and Steven to be the best," he admitted. "Thought your mother and Sally would make you too soft, too girly. Didn't think people would like you if you were a freak or gay. I was wrong."
"Dad — "
"No, son, listen." William held up a hand. "I made it my life's work to be a rich, well-connected man; as such, I hear things. You're the best cop the city has, working in a team the mayor herself says is the best Major Crimes team the city has ever had. Cascade's crime rate is at the lowest it's been in twenty years. I'm proud of you for that. I hear it's not just you that's responsible, that Blair Sandburg's set up programs to prevent crime and reach out to people everyone else used to ignore." William shook his head, clearly admiring Blair. "Best of all, more than anything he could ever do for the city, he did something nobody else could do. He got you to talk to me, after years of not speaking. That's worth more than anything I could buy. I'm an old man. I don't want to keep living my life like some old song about cats and cradles. If that means accepting things my religion says are unnatural, then maybe my religion's not seeing what I see, which is my son, happy."
Stunned, Jim couldn't find the words.
"Now," William said briskly, "what is my grandson's full name?"
Swallowing his shock, Jim answered, "Cody Michael Ellison."
"Any idea why his mother chose Cody?"
Jim shook his head, not wanting to admit he'd barely known Kate.
Shrugging, William said, "Women's heads. Who knows? Your mother wanted to name you six different names before she finally settled on one. She was worse with Steven."
Finally, Jim found his voice. "I wasn't expecting you to be so accepting."
William watched Cody exploring the toy. After a moment, he said, "You gave me a lot to think about when that mess with Aaron Foster happened. Made me realize just how afraid I'd been…and how different things could've been if you hadn't been able to hear what you did." He cleared his throat. "Now, have you set up a college fund yet? Surely, if Cody's mother was insured, there's some settlement money. Have you checked into that?"
Jim hid a smile and his relief at the predictable refocus on money — a subject his father was eminently more comfortable with than his emotions.
Drained but quietly pleased at the success he'd helped achieve that day, Blair stepped into the loft, wanting nothing more than to wrap himself in Jim's arms and not let go. He was surprised to find his lover sitting on the couch, looking more worn out than Blair had anticipated. Checking the time on the cable box, Blair knew that it was now past seven — Cody's bedtime.
Still, Blair moved to meet his lover halfway, relishing the kiss of welcome he received. "Mmm, been looking forward to that all day," he murmured, stepping back without leaving the embrace entirely. "How's the munchkin?"
Jim smiled, but it wasn't a happy smile, and Blair knew instantly something had happened. "He ate a couple of pieces of banana tonight, and he's mastered tossing the ball into the chute on that jungle toy of his." Dryly, he added, "He tried banging a spoon for a while, but he realized he didn't like the noise."
"And?" Blair prodded.
"And he didn't like his grandfather."
"What?" Shocked, Blair stared at Jim. "Was it just that it was someone new? According to the books, Cody's at the right age for new people to be scary."
Jim shook his head.
"Okay, so what did your dad do to upset Cody?"
Jim pursed his lips. "He didn't."
Blair eyed his lover warily, suddenly remembering that he couldn't always tell when Jim was joking. "Uh huh," Blair said. "So your dad managed to pick Cody up without Cody screaming his head off, and he's setting up a trust fund as we speak."
Now Jim chuckled and broke their embrace. "Nothing gets past you." He moved to the kitchen, clearly getting ready to prepare dinner.
Blair shook his head and began to help pull out ingredients from the fridge. As Jim hated grocery shopping nearly as much as he hated surprises for dinner, they'd long ago gotten into the habit of planning meals and drawing up the grocery list together. Blair was grateful for it; it meant they both knew what would be for dinner, barring any work-related complications. Now, he focused on assembling the slaw that would accompany the chicken Jim was making as the scent of chopped garlic and onion sizzling in a pan filled the kitchen.
"So how did your dad find out?" Blair wondered, after he'd finished chopping up cabbage.
"One of his neighbors saw us in the grocery store. Mr. Parsons never could keep a secret –if you ever want to know what's going on in Madison Ridge, he's the man to ask." Deftly, Jim added the pieces of boneless chicken to the pan.
Amused at the idea that even in one of Cascade's richest neighborhoods, a gossipy, nosy neighbor could be found, Blair grinned. "I'll have to remember that." Suddenly remembering who else hadn't been told, Blair asked, "Have you told Sally yet?"
Jim groaned. In many ways, Sally had been more his mother than housekeeper. "Not the first time I've disappointed her."
Blair glared at his lover. "Maybe not, but Cody needs a mother figure. If you don't want — "
Jim raised a hand to stave off the inevitable lecture. "I'll ask her if she's willing to play grandma. Her first loyalty has and always will be to my father. She might yell at him for being an idiot sometimes, but she's always made it clear that she wasn't my mother."
Blair said nothing for a long moment, contrasting his own upbringing against the harsh lessons in loyalty Jim had learned. Dropping the cabbage he'd chopped into a bowl, Blair debated the wisdom of saying anything to counter what Jim had said, and decided nothing could be said that wouldn't escalate into an argument. "What about Kate's family?"
Jim shook his head. "Kate said her grandmother raised her. She said her mother went insane when she was in junior high and has been locked up ever since."
Blair's eyes widened at that. "Ouch. That must've been painful. Maybe we should put up an ad: 'Wanted — grandma for hire. Must come with excellent references and submit to a background check.'"
Jim laughed as he poured soy sauce over the chicken he'd been browning in a pan. "That reminds me: we need to start figuring out who's going to look after Cody when I go back to work next week."
"I thought we were going with the daycare at the station?"
"Did you look at the cost for after-hours?"
Blair frowned as he julienned a carrot to add to the cabbage. "No. I take it you looked at the brochures Simon collected for us?"
"Before my dad showed up," Jim confirmed.
"Too much?" Blair asked, dumping the sliced carrots into the bowl.
Jim shook his head and sighed. "Just realizing that if I'm going to stay a cop, my son will be raised by strangers."
"Well, if you want to make me a kept man…" Blair teased.
Jim snorted. "Didn't I do that already?" he shot back. "All those years you were in school and never paid rent…"
Blair blinked. He'd forgotten that Jim had paid for the portion of Blair's expenses Blair couldn't cover for whatever reason, in part because the work he did for the PD wasn't paid. One semester, thanks to failing to qualify for a grant he'd usually gotten, that had meant Jim had paid for everything. The memory of that never failed to make Blair feel weirdly relieved that Jim had been financially able to help.
Jim's reluctance to repeat that investment stung. "Are you saying I'm not worth it?" Blair asked huskily, deliberately seductive.
Careful to set aside the knife Blair had been using, Jim tugged him closer and kissed him. "You're always worth it," he declared.
"So I'll stay home and take care of Cody," Blair suggested.
"No," Jim said decisively, stepping back. "You worked too hard to get the position at the station, and if you left because of Cody, you'd resent him eventually. Maybe me too."
Blair stared at him, confused and hurt. "I wouldn't," he objected as he started to slice a green bell pepper.
Jim looked at him disbelievingly before turning over the pieces of chicken in the pan. "Really. And how many people did you live with growing up who didn't like your mom leaving you with them so damned much?"
"That's different. This is me, wanting to help." Hands underscoring his words, Blair looked at his lover earnestly.
"And they didn't, at least at first?" Jim countered as he added a cup of water to the pan, letting it come to a boil.
Blair didn't answer right away, using the excuse of having to clean up the work area before he replied. "I don't think any of them expected Naomi to be gone so much," Blair admitted reluctantly as he returned to dice the remaining parts of the bell pepper. "Or they argued with her about the fact we traveled — sometimes to places that weren't considered 'good places to take a child.' Naomi taught me a lot about the world, and I'm grateful for it. But, Jim, Cody's situation is different than what mine was. If you don't want your son to be raised by strangers, and — " Blair swallowed past the hurt that rose to choke his voice, blinking past an unexpected surge of tears as he focused on dumping the bell pepper pieces into the bowl "— you don't want me to stay home with Cody, you don't have much in the way of choices. Although — isn't one of Rafe's girlfriend one of the caregivers at the daycare at the station?"
Jim sighed as he turned down the heat under the pan and added a lid. "Yeah. But do you really want to put Cody in daycare? Especially at the station, where despite all the security improvements we keep being in danger?"
"Good point," Blair agreed, adding the organic vinaigrette dressing he'd grabbed from the fridge to the bowl of vegetables before he tossed the salad together. "You're not planning on quitting your job, are you? I can't imagine you being a stay-at-home dad. As much as you've been enjoying the time with Cody, you've already gotten restless about being on paternity leave for this long. You don't usually like to shop for groceries, and you've been at the store almost every day for the past two weeks."
Jim shot him an annoyed look, but Blair met it calmly, aware annoyance was often Jim's first reaction to any observations he made.
"I can't either," Jim admitted reluctantly. "I want my son to respect the choices I've made."
Blair nodded in understanding. "And telling him he's genetically disposed towards to being a tribal guardian when you've given up that duty — " Blair shook his head. "He's either going to feel like he's supposed to be making up for what you've given up or that you couldn't handle it and be a dad too. Not a good situation. But we don't have the money or the room for a nanny, do we?"
"Actually…" Jim began.
"You're not spending your trust fund again, are you?" Blair asked suspiciously. He'd been surprised a few days previously when Jim had traded in his '69 Ford for a brand-new version, citing the need to have room for Cody's car seat. "I thought you said you were saving that for Cody's college."
Jim laughed and checked the chicken in the pan. "No, but Kate was insured when the accident occurred. Dad reminded me I should follow up to make sure the insurance company wasn't just waiting for an adult signature. Since the accident generated a police report, I made a few phone calls."
"The insurance agent was relieved to find out that Cody was with me. Turns out the agent was Kate's best friend. Nichole Worthington is her name. She was being stonewalled by the state as to who had custody. Nichole is delivering the check to me day after tomorrow. She said the company won't let her mail it."
Blair's eyes narrowed. "How much insurance did Kate have? No, wait, how much are we going to be banking for Cody?"
"About a hundred thousand," Jim told him. "Maybe more. Nichole wasn't too sure of the amount because she had to verify it with her corporate office."
Blair blinked at the figure Jim quoted. "That's a lot of insurance."
Jim shrugged. "Kate was a computer engineer."
"Not exactly a low-paying job from what I know," Blair noted. "What kind of car did she have?"
"Silver '89 Mercury Sable. She said she bought it as a graduation present for herself."
"That much money from the insurance company means it's not just car insurance that's paying out," Blair deduced. "That car wouldn't be worth much."
Jim nodded. "Nichole said it was mostly life insurance." He shrugged again. "Either way, we don't have to worry about the expense of childcare for a while." He eyed Blair a moment before turning to check on the chicken one more time. "I'm surprised you're not all over the nanny idea."
"Cody's your son; how you want him raised is your call," Blair pointed out reasonably, shoving aside the flare of hurt that Jim thought Blair's career mattered more, that Jim was prepared to trust a stranger over Blair with Cody. "I just figured you might like having him close by so you could visit."
"There is that," Jim allowed.
"So if you don't like the daycare, you'll have to start interviewing people," Blair said. "Or do you have someone in mind already? No, your father does."
Jim had the grace to look sheepish. "It's Sally's niece, and she's a professional nanny. Her name's Ann, and she's bonded and insured."
"And you agreed to meet her when?"
"Tomorrow at two."
"And you didn't argue with your dad because….?"
"Because he said you were better for me than any woman who'd use me like Kate did," Jim said quietly.
Blair froze. Jim loved the look of shock on his lover's face. "Your dad said that?" Blair managed.
Jim smiled, relishing the moment. "Yeah. Imagine that." Grabbing two plates and a spoon, he began dishing out their dinner. "Come on, let's eat. I'm hungry."
"Chief, did you want to sit in on the meeting with Ann today?" Jim asked the next morning as he watched Blair prep a protein shake to go.
Blair shook his head. "Sorry, no can do," he said easily. "I'm meeting with the DA at two to go over my testimony for the Cagle murder."
Jim tried to hide his disappointment. "I can reschedule the meeting," he offered.
Blair leaned over and kissed him. "Your instincts about people are better than mine," he reminded Jim breezily. "You know Cody's sensitivities just as well as I do — maybe better, even. If she has questions, she can always ask me."
With that, Blair grabbed his shake and headed out the door. Jim watched him go, wondering why he felt as if he'd missed something important, then shook himself. Cody would be waking soon, and Jim wanted to do some house cleaning before it got too late.
Outside in his car, Blair put down his shake into the cup holder and breathed a sigh of relief. Cody was Jim's son; choosing who was going to take care of him when Jim couldn't felt like the sort of decision Blair didn't want to make. If he recommended someone, and that person turned out to be wrong…Blair knew Jim's reaction would be instant, unadulterated fury — maybe enough to sever their relationship as lovers. That, plus Jim's refusal to consider Blair staying home a suitable alternative to hired childcare, made Blair even more determined not to screw this up.
Blair had no desire to go back to pretending he wasn't in love with his best friend, or that he hadn't started to crave Jim's touch as a lover. They'd already tested the limits of their friendship once; Blair didn't want to find out that raising Cody was the thing that broke their love.
Telling himself that Cody was Jim's son, and thus it was only right that Jim made any childcare decisions himself, without Blair's influence, Blair started up his car and headed to work.
"Thanks for being so flexible on the day, Mr. Ellison," Nichole Worthington said, stepping into the loft three days later. She was a slender, athletic, fashionably dressed black woman who radiated warmth.
"Not a problem," Jim said. He was already inclined to like her based on his previous phone conversations with her. Her appearance only solidified the impression. Still, he remained cautious; she could have argued the distance between Cascade and Spokane was too great and arranged a courier to deliver the check, especially since she lived and worked in Spokane. The fact she hadn't intrigued him. "Did you get your emergency taken care of?"
Nichole grimaced. "House fire — family lost everything, and if they hadn't had a dog, they might not have known. Dog smelled it before the smoke detectors went off."
"Good dog," Jim said. "Please, have a seat." He gestured to the sofa, not missing how she catalogued the contents of the living space. "Can I get you anything to drink?"
Nichole shook her head as she sat down, then hesitated.
Jim didn't have to be a sentinel to guess what she wanted: to see Cody. If she was truly Kate's friend, it made sense that she'd want to see Kate's son. Still, he waited, taking the seat opposite her. For a moment, he found himself grateful that Blair had to work at the station that day; his lover would've given in to the unvoiced need.
Apparently making a decision, Nichole pulled out a pen and a padfolio from her laptop-sized tote, then opening the padfolio to reveal a partially completed form. "I just need to see some identification," she said.
In reply, Jim showed her his badge.
Nichole stared at it as if she hadn't quite expected that, then shook herself. "Thanks for faxing Cody's birth certificate to me; that helped me fill out a few things," she said, clearly trying to relax. As if taking refuge in the formalities while she tried to figure out how to relate to Jim, she began writing down the pertinent details onto the form with studied precision.
"Okay, so I just need a signature here," she said a few minutes later, handing over her pen.
Jim read the document, which outlined that as Cody's surviving parent, Jim was entitled to receive the proceeds from Kate's life and car insurance policies. The amount was a quarter of a million dollars. Wonder if Kate bought more than she thought she'd need because she wanted to help a friend out, Jim thought.
Money couldn't buy happiness, Jim knew. He'd grown up the son of a rich man; the Ellisons were old money in Cascade. Jim had happily turned his back on it all, preferring to make his own way. Jim was proud of the success he'd carved out for himself, even as he acknowledged that while he largely ignored his trust fund, he did count on the dividends to help bridge some of the gaps.
"Any questions?" Nichole asked.
Jim shook his head. "That's a lot of zeroes," he noted mildly, signing the form.
"I tried to tell Kate she didn't need that much, but she was adamant," Nichole said with a rueful laugh, taking the form and her pen back from Jim. "Her grandmother raised her, and when her grandmother died, it was a relief to Kate to find out that her grandmother left her enough money to finish college." Nichole paused. "Mrs. Barthlomew was such a sweet woman. She was 'Grandma B' to most of our sorority. Girls Grandma B didn't like usually turned out to be nasty people." Nichole shook her head, remembering.
"Kate mentioned being raised by her grandmother," Jim put in, wanting a bit more information about the woman who'd given him a son.
Nichole nodded. "Kate's mother was really competitive -- wanted Kate to be an Olympic champion. Kate made Nationals and was one of the top twenty fencers in the country, but she didn't have much of a life outside of fencing. She always claimed it was a boy and a book that made her decide she wanted something more. Her mother went crazy; Grandma B wound up with custody of Kate, and Kate never looked back." Nichole shrugged. "Probably one reason why she didn't tell you about Cody -- the whole issue of custody." Nichole looked at Jim apologetically before she filed the form away, then pulled out an envelope and handed that to Jim.
The envelope had been sealed with a small piece of tape. Glancing inside, Jim saw it held the check. Pulling it out, he checked to see that the amount was correct, and that the check appeared to be an official check digitally signed by an officer of the insurance company.
"Looks good," Jim said, rising to put the check into the stack of bills on the counter. Then, hearing Cody stir from his nap, Jim made a decision. Nichole's move towards business made him curious to see what she'd do when she saw Cody.
Rising to his feet, Jim told his guest, "Give me a second and I'll be right back."
Stepping into the nursery, Jim breathed in the scent of his son as he moved to the crib. Cody wriggled in his crib, wanting to be picked up. Jim smiled; he loved that his son recognized him already. Picking up Cody, Jim moved to sit him in his high chair while he got formula ready for Cody's lunchtime feeding.
"He's grown a lot since I last saw him," Nichole noted softly.
"When was that?"
"Day before the accident. Kate had a fencing class to teach and the salle doesn't allow kids under age seven, so I was babysitting. She was excited over a new student in class, and how she'd finally gotten Cody accepted into the daycare at her work. He was supposed to start there that Monday." For a moment, grief clouded Nichole's face. "I was her emergency contact, but Social Services wouldn't let me keep Cody — said it was better for him if he was with them." She rolled her eyes. "I heard all the horror stories, and I knew Cody was sensitive to certain things — he didn't like certain brands of diapers, he was picky about the formula — and I tried to tell them that, but they weren't listening."
Jim nodded, not surprised. "He gets it from me, unfortunately."
"Then I'm glad he's with you," Nichole said. She watched Jim feed Cody, who was hungrily drinking down the formula. "Guess you found the right one, huh?"
"Helps to have a well-stocked natural food store nearby," Jim replied. He glanced at her, aware that she had been judging him. "I'm not what you expected."
Nichole chuckled. "No. Somehow, I just figured you were some kind of married creep who fooled around with Kate and didn't give a damn. Kate just said she didn't need a white knight to rescue her. But you're too much of a neat person to not care — I mean, even with the little play area you've created in the corner, everything's picked up, everything's clean...even with living with someone else. Somehow I don't think the Anthropology Today is your magazine?" At his rueful nod, she went on, "which means you're at least tolerable. Plus you're a cop. You do care. If you'd known about Cody sooner, you would've done something."
Jim closed his eyes briefly. "Yeah," he said. "But he's with me now, and I can't change the past." He let out a breath, then added, "And before you ask, I wasn't with anyone when I met Kate."
Nichole smiled. "Kate insisted that," she said, in a tone that indicated she hadn't believed her friend.
Jim hid a smile, recognizing the protective instinct.
"How does your girlfriend feel about Cody?" Nichole wondered.
"I don't have a girlfriend," Jim corrected her, and watched her eyes widen. "But I couldn't raise Cody without my partner."
Nichole blinked a bit at that. "Oh. Oh. Oh, God, no wonder Kate thought she didn't have a chance— "
"I may not have loved her," Jim interrupted firmly, "but I cared enough about Kate that I would've tried to be friends. I was just too sure she had a life she didn't want to give up for me."
Nichole chuckled ruefully at that. "She was sure of that for you, as well." Shaking her head, she then rose to her feet. "I'll let myself out," she said. "Thanks for letting me see him. I need to get going if I'm going to be back in Spokane at a decent hour." At his move to object, she held up a hand. "I know how he is about feeding time. I don't need to hold him; I just needed to see he was okay."
Jim extended his free hand for Nichole to shake. She took it, grasping it firmly. "Thanks for coming by, and for taking care of my son when Kate couldn't. If you're ever back this way…."
Nichole smiled, understanding. "I'll call first," she promised.
Once Jim was sure Cody had had enough to eat, Jim put the now empty bottle in the sink before moving to relock the door. While the new building security system had cut down on the number of unwanted visitors, Jim knew that it wasn't perfect. He didn't want any interruptions while he spent time with his son. Come Monday, Jim was back to work, and Cody would be in the care of Ann, Sally's niece. Until then, Jim wanted to treasure every moment he had while he still could.
Experience told him nothing this good lasted forever.
Glad to be home, Blair unlocked the door of the loft. Four days stretched ahead with no work in sight, and while he knew part of it would be spent dealing with fireworks-related sensory overload, Blair had a plan. They'd put Cody to bed, and then Jim would be free to seduce.
Of course, Blair reminded himself, the last time you had a plan to seduce Jim, it not only didn't work, the most you wound up doing was sharing a shower and a cuddle.
Yes, he answered himself, but that was three months ago. Three months of doing everything but getting fucked, and I want to set off a few fireworks of our own tonight.
That thought in mind, Blair smiled in anticipation, and stepped through the door.
Before Blair could say hello, Jim thrust Cody into his arms.
"You deal with him," Jim said, and stalked out the door. Cody screamed, not liking change.
Puzzled, Blair checked Cody over, even as he said soothingly, "Hey kiddo. You know your daddy's trying his best, so what has you all riled up? Someone lighting off fireworks already?"
"That's what set him off initially, but I'm afraid I'm not helping."
Startled, Blair looked over to see William sitting on the couch.
"All I wanted was to see if Jimmy had followed up on my advice, and give my grandson a present," William said, sounding confused.
With a sigh, Blair said, "Give me a few minutes to put this little guy to bed."
William nodded, but Blair felt his gaze through the glass panes of the door to Cody's room. Cody fought Blair, not wanting to be put to sleep, not wanting to let go of the soothing touch Blair offered. With a sigh, certain that Cody's senses were acting up, Blair stripped the boy of his clothes, changed his diaper, then switched on the white noise generator. Cody whimpered, not liking what Blair had done, but he settled quickly once Blair closed the curtains and dropped the curtain over the backside of the door. Exiting the room, Blair found William seated on the couch, waiting for him.
The older man studied him a moment before saying, "You know Jimmy has you in his will."
Blair just stared at him, one eyebrow raised as he waited for the accusation.
William started to speak, then swallowed hard. "Men of my generation made sure they took care of their families. They were the breadwinners, the ones who made the money and made sure there was a roof over their families' heads and food on the table. Is it so wrong to expect Jimmy to do the same with you and his son?"
"Only if you pushed Jim to give you details of how he's doing it," Blair countered mildly as he took a seat on the couch facing the older man. "He's not obligated to tell you anything, ever, especially if you start in on how he's supposed to raise Cody."
William looked at Blair, his face reflecting genuine puzzlement. "What's wrong with giving my son advice? Besides, the way Cody was screaming when I came in, it looked like Jimmy could use some."
"Let me guess," Blair said tiredly, "you suggested Cody was just being a spoiled brat and needed a bit of discipline."
The older man drew back in confusion. "Something wrong with that?"
Blair glared at William. "Your grandson inherited his father's sensitivities. Tell me, was Jim a fussy baby?"
The look of shock on William's face was priceless. "But — but — but Jimmy didn't settle down until he was two years old, and that was only because Grace was pregnant with Steven and she didn't have time to fuss with him. That's when we hired Sally."
Blair arched an eyebrow. "Did he really settle down, or did you just spank him hard enough so that he stopped complaining?"
"Didn't your mother ever do the same?" William retorted.
"Actually, Naomi believed in nonviolent parenting methods," Blair returned evenly. "Cody's young enough that he doesn't understand punishment yet, only that his senses hurt or he's hungry or his diaper needs changing."
Blair watched as comprehension dawned on the older man. "I wanted my sons to be tough, strong men."
"What are you more afraid of, that your grandson will be outed as a freak, or the son of a freak?" Blair challenged. "You think that putting your money and whatever funds he inherited from his mother are going to be enough protection when the freak squad shows up to haul him away?"
William rose angrily. "Yes, damn it! You of all people know how dangerous it is — what if they took both Jimmy and Cody away? All your sacrifices would mean nothing!"
Blair shook his head. "No, they wouldn't. I'm gambling that by the time they try, Cody will be old enough to know how to control his senses so that anything they try will be useless."
William stared at him, eyes narrowing. "You still need to give a child limits, structure, and a good education."
"And Cody will have that," Blair assured him. "It may not be in the way you want, William. You can voice your opinion, but how Cody gets raised is up to Jim."
"I thought I told Jimmy to treat you right," William began, puzzled. "Surely, if you're…together, you have some say in what happens to Cody as well. Doesn't my son give you that authority?"
"I'm not some 1950's wife," Blair shot back. "What I choose to do, what Jim and I negotiate, is our business, not yours."
William leaned forward intently. "It's mine when my son isn't treating you with respect," the older man muttered. "He should be listening to you, especially if you have a plan to raise Cody so he has control. Jim got mad when I asked, said that it wasn't up to me to declare your responsibilities or to tell him what he should do."
Blair wasn't sure whether he wanted to roll his eyes or be flattered at William's words. "William, when you were trying to make a living after your wife left, just how many people thought they had the right to tell you how you should raise your sons?"
The older man had the grace to look sheepish. "Too many," he admitted. "Some even tried to fix me up, said I needed a wife, not a housekeeper. Especially not an Asian one. I told them to go to hell. Wasn't any of their business how I…." With a shudder, William let out a breath and sat down heavily. "Old habits die hard, Blair. I just want the best for my son, and his family. Never thought I'd have a grandson, not after all this time, and especially not after the way I saw how much you love my son. His mother certainly never loved me like that."
"Where is Jim's mother?"
"I lost track of her years ago; she moved away when Jimmy was sixteen."
Just then, the door opened, and Jim walked in. "She's dead now," he told his father. "She died about fifteen years ago."
Surprised, William looked at Jim. "You've known?"
Jim shrugged. "When I came back from Peru, one of the reporters thought I already knew she was dead and told me. He was very apologetic when he realized I hadn't known." Jim looked at his father, clearly puzzled. "I thought you knew; that's why I didn't say anything."
William shook his head. "No, her family and I never got along. They were the ones pushing Grace to be something more than a wife and mother."
"She's buried in Portland," Jim said carefully. "I can look up where exactly if you're interested."
William shook his head again, then rose to his feet. "I loved how pretty she was, and that she gave me sons," he said with a sigh. "I wasn't raised to want much else in a wife." He clapped a hand on his son's shoulder. "You've already done better than I in that regard. Let me know if you need anything." With that, he nodded once to Blair, patted his pockets to be sure he hadn't left anything, then strode decisively to the door, as if getting home was suddenly the most important mission in his life.
Jim shut the door behind him. Turning to face Blair, he let out a relieved sigh.
Blair let out a slow breath, feeling as though he'd just run an emotional gauntlet. "Your father is something else," he told Jim.
Jim smiled grimly and drew Blair into a hug. "I know," he replied, clearly relishing the simple embrace. "I just couldn't take any more of it while Cody was fussing over not liking the new outfit Grandpa brought him."
"Wondered if that was new," Blair muttered. "Even with the white noise generator, Cody wasn't willing to settle."
Jim sighed. "Someone lit off fireworks and set him off, but that's not the only thing upsetting him. I was going to check and see if he's teething yet," he said. "That book you got said he's supposed to start when he's six months old."
Abruptly aware they were now alone and that Cody was tucked in for the night, Blair remembered his original intentions for the evening. "We can check later," Blair told Jim as the long-delayed ember of passion flared to life. "Right now, I have better ideas."
"Oh?" Jim paused as his senses surged with awareness of what Blair wanted. His gaze traveled over Blair's face and searched his eyes. "You think that's going to help?"
In reply, Blair kissed him until the last of Jim's anger and worries had been drained out and were replaced by a tension of a completely different kind. Stepping back, slightly breathless, Blair surveyed the effort.
Jim smiled crookedly, his breath just this shade of ragged. "Soothing the savage beast, Chief?"
"If it works," Blair replied with a shrug, eyes gleaming with mischief. "I was going for awakening it, myself."
Jim chuckled dangerously. "Oh, I see." He stepped away to make sure the front door was secure, then turned to look at Blair, hunger in his eyes, ratcheting up Blair's desire. He knew that look well now, knew he was going to be pounced…and Blair couldn't help shivering in excitement. He'd been looking forward to that all day.
"If that's what you want, Chief, you'd better make sure you're not the last person up the stairs and naked in our bed."
Blair wasn't, but it was close. He managed to get all but one sock off before Jim, who'd only been wearing jeans, pounced. Laughing and grabbing the lube from the nightstand drawer, Blair struggled to reposition himself more comfortably before Jim stole his breath with a long, passionate kiss. Blair lost himself in the pleasure of that, relishing that Jim saw kissing as something to be enjoyed as much as anything other form of lovemaking. The tube Blair held slipped, almost forgotten, out of his hand.
Jim moved down, trailing his right hand down Blair's body with a touch that never failed to make Blair shudder with anticipation. Soon, Blair felt his lone sock being removed. The offending article of clothing was tossed off the bed and Blair started to tease Jim about his fastidiousness when warm heat encircled a completely different part of Blair's body. The words Blair had begun to speak escaped his throat as a moan instead.
Maddeningly, Jim seemed content just to stay there, not moving, not licking, not going any farther than the head of Blair's cock.
"Now is not the time to be playing with your senses, or zoning," Blair ground out.
Jim laughed softly. "Not zoning," he denied. "Enjoying." So saying, he put his mouth back where it had been.
With a groan, Blair laid back and tried to ignore his desire for more than just having the head of his cock in Jim's mouth. The drawback to being lover to a Sentinel, Blair had discovered, was that he had to learn when his lover had gotten too caught up in one sense, and when Jim had simply found pleasure in extending the moment — whatever that particular moment was. Blair had a storehouse of patience, but right now, all he could think about was how good Jim's mouth felt on his cock, and how much better it would be if something more happened.
As if Blair's passivity was a signal, Jim used his left hand to encircle the rest of Blair's cock and began to pump it in the rhythm Blair preferred. Blair dared a look, and felt desire race through him at the sight he found. Then Jim took Blair's cock farther into his mouth, still pumping the shaft as he did so. Two lubed fingers then thrust into Blair's opening, unerringly finding his prostate. Gasping, Blair found his voice. "Jim — love — I'm gonna — oh God — "
Undeterred, Jim didn't rise up or let go until Blair's release was done. Then, smiling as if he was a cat who'd gotten the cream, Jim met Blair's astonished gaze. Deliberately holding the gaze, Jim then swallowed. Love and need surged through Blair like wildfire.
Noticing the increase in pheromones, Jim smiled wickedly as he added another finger to the two already inside Blair, stretching him even further. He leaned down to kiss Blair, letting Blair taste himself, then slid his cock into Blair with careful strokes.
Blair whimpered in pleasure as he tried to accommodate Jim's width, surging up to meet Jim's thrusts until they were both moving as one.
Sometime later, when they'd regained their breath and cleaned up somewhat, Blair turned to his lover. "Why do I feel like I was the one soothed?"
Jim shrugged. "I smelled you when you came home," he said, "and I know my father."
Blair considered that and snuggled closer. "Maybe we can get Steven to talk to your dad, convince him to…."
"No," Jim said firmly. "You are not alienating my son's alternate Guide by asking him to play peacemaker."
Surprised again for the second time that night, Blair stared at his lover. "What are you talking about?"
Jim glared at him. "Don't tell me you hadn't figured out that the way I got through childhood was because Steven was grounding me."
Blair groaned. "And your father making you compete with each other, fighting for approval, broke the bond between you, making it impossible to continue being a Sentinel until you needed to rely on your senses…." He smacked his forehead. "I'm an idiot." He held up a hand, forestalling the counterargument. "No, I am one. Cody took to Steven right away, and there's rarely been a problem when Steven's babysat for us. I'm not sure I'd leave Cody alone with your dad."
"I wouldn't want you to," Jim said evenly. "Stevie wouldn't, either." Jim paused, then added more slowly, "I don't even think Steven knows how calming he is."
Blair narrowed his eyes. "He figured out he was your Guide when you were kids because he read my dissertation, trying to figure out who to get on my case with the university and Sid. Just like you, he's not entirely comfortable with the notion and feels guilty for not doing more, so he's just going to pretend it's all in the past and you'll just move forward."
"I like who he is now better than I did then," Jim said pointedly. "And Cody needs someone in my family who isn't going to think he's crazy when he sees his panther. Who would you rather Cody confide in when he doesn't want to talk to us? Your mother would have his head spinning."
Blair groaned. "She's going to kill me."
"You didn't tell her you have a son?"
Blair blinked at that, alarm bells ringing at Jim's calm certainty. If Jim hadn't wanted Blair to stay home with Cody, then where did this idea come from? Blair wondered, irked. "Cody's your son."
"He's being raised by you as much as he is by me," Jim said stubbornly.
"That doesn't make me his father," Blair argued. Seeing the look of resolve on Jim's face, he sighed. "I love you, and I love Cody. I'm just not sure I'm ready to adopt him, if that's what you're asking."
Jim closed his eyes briefly. "I love you, too." He let go of a breath. "And yeah, I'm probably asking for too much again. Wasn't that long ago I ruined your surprise for me by coming home with him." Jim leaned over and kissed Blair gently, apologetically. "You'll tell me when you change your mind?"
Blair returned the kiss. "Of course." Still, he couldn't help the flutter of panic that ran through him at the thought of the responsibility. It was one thing to support Jim through the first hurdles of parenthood, especially given the way Cody had pretty much been dumped in his father's lap, but the rest of it — Blair wasn't sure he could do that. He knew his lover well enough to recognize a potential minefield; accepting Cody as his son as well as Jim's was already primed with danger signs. Blair loved Jim, but their relationship as lovers wasn't any older than the day Jim had brought Cody home. Everything Blair had done so far to help Jim with Cody had been mostly accepted, but now Blair wondered if Jim had just been waiting for someone to bring in a professional caregiver. If that was the case, then Blair wasn't sure where he fit anymore.
"And you're going to tell Naomi sometime before she hits here like a hurricane, demanding to know what I've done to corrupt her son again?"
Chuckling ruefully, Blair said, "I'll send her an email as soon as we get up tomorrow." He yawned and shifted so that he was in his preferred sleeping position, pulling his share of the covers over himself as he did so. "Good night, Jim."
"Did you hear back from Naomi yet?" Jim asked a few days later as they put away washed laundry.
Blair shook his head as he segregated the piles of laundry on the bed in search of the towels they desperately needed, aware that Jim was carefully not saying anything about how he'd dumped mixed fabrics together. If Jim had done the laundry, they would still be running loads, and nothing would have gotten clean in time to put it away before Cody woke up from his afternoon nap.
"No, but the last time we talked, she said something about balancing her karma."
Jim looked at him skeptically as he matched socks and rolled them together. "In English?"
Too long used to his mother's New Age practices and philosophies, Blair shrugged. "Charitable work of some sort, usually a paid volunteer position so she can earn enough to go somewhere else."
Jim blinked. "Isn't 'paid volunteer' a kind of oxymoron?"
"Someone has to be in charge of all the rest of the volunteers," Blair pointed out. "Naomi's good at getting people to do what she wants them to do. A lot of what Naomi did to support us when I was growing up was stuff like that; it's how we managed to go to a lot of places we wouldn't have otherwise gone. It's probably something for AMIGOS or one of the newer international volunteer organizations like United Planet. Don't ever get her started on the Peace Corps unless you want to hear her rant about government involvement in volunteerism."
"I'll keep that in mind," Jim said dryly as he stepped over to the dresser to put away the socks.
"You're not worried about what Naomi thinks about us, are you?" Blair asked.
"No," Jim said honestly. "I just would like some warning the next time she shows up. It's been a while since her last visit; she might have forgotten I can't stand sage. Even if she remembers that, she doesn't know that Cody's just as sensitive to it as I am — maybe a bit more since he's younger."
Blair chuckled ruefully, then leaned over to kiss Jim reassuringly. "Let me put these towels away and I'll send her another email," he promised, sure that Jim's apparent need to let Naomi know was being driven by the way the Ellison family had come together in support of Jim and Cody. Naomi might embrace Cody; she might not. Blair had nothing to draw upon to conjecture what his mother's reaction might be — for all her acceptance and her open-minded ways, this was a situation he'd never faced with her before.
Still, Jim did have a point: knowing when Naomi would be in town next gave them time to prepare. Taking the stack of towels, Blair headed downstairs.
Date: August 14, 2003 15:36
All the best, Nichole
Nichole Washington, CPIW, CPIA
Curious, Jim took the break offered by the email. Saving the file, he unzipped it and started paging through the pictures. Nichole had labeled all of them, saving Jim the hassle of trying to figure out how old Cody was in the pictures. The first ten were of Cody, and then there was one of Kate. According to the caption, she was five months pregnant as she stood before a wall full of knickknacks in someone's house. She looked tired, yet the same hint of vulnerability, charisma, and strength that had first attracted Jim still shone through. Her long, wavy black hair had been left loose to curl around her bare shoulders; she wore a purple exercise bra top and gray sweatpants that had been pushed down to reveal her belly. The photographer had captured Kate in mid-laugh. Somehow, Jim didn't think Kate had been laughing at the idea of exercise; she'd been a very fit woman when they'd met, and he didn't think she'd give it up just because she'd gotten pregnant.
Then again, he reminded himself, there was a lot you didn't think she'd give up.
For a moment, he let himself remember.
"Are you close to your family?" Kate asked as she laid her head on Jim's chest in the aftermath of their passion.
"Now I am," he told her. "Wasn't always that way. Turns out my brother's a really cool guy. My dad's mellowed somewhat, but sometimes he just…doesn't understand how things work."
"Yeah, I know how that feels like — my mother was like that. She always ran things — tried running my life. Thought I should've kept on going with my fencing, pushed harder to win at Nationals instead of being content with top ten, because eventually, I'd get there, and there's no age limit in fencing."
"What happened?" Jim asked, genuinely curious. What had started out to be a one-night stand was quickly turning into something more, and he wanted all he could have of this beautiful, passionate woman. He didn't want to go back to the conference; he wanted to spend the rest of the day — hell, the rest of the weekend -- with her.
Kate shrugged. "I met Tony. He was two years older, and he had a book I wanted to read. Had this really cool cover of a woman, and on the back it said she was an engineer, the finest among her race, and she was the only one who could save the world from a computer breakdown. I fell in love."
"With the book or the boy?"
Kate laughed softly, green eyes dancing with merriment. "The book. Tony was only in my life for one competition — his parents just thought it would be neat for him to try out, see how far he got." Kate was quiet a moment. "I had to sneak out to Radio Shack to find out what a computer was — skipped practice. My mother went crazy." Kate rose up on one elbow to meet Jim's eyes. "It was a messy scene — Dad got hurt trying to defend me, the cops came and arrested my mother…" She shook her head. "My grandmother pretty much raised me after that."
"You speak to your parents now?"
"No. My dad never really recovered from what happened; he died about a year after. Last I knew my mom was still at an institution for the criminally insane." She lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug, unconcerned.
"You're not worried she'll come after you?"
Chuckling wryly, Kate shook her head. "Why should I? I have nothing she could want, and she can't find me. Sheez. Take the cop out of the convention; put him in bed with a naked woman, and what happens if you're the woman? You're still in bed with a cop."
Jim growled, pretending to be offended, but he was laughing when he kissed her.
The beeping of another incoming email shook Jim from his memories. For a moment, he regretted not pursuing Kate — but he'd come home early, having skipped out on the Sunday afternoon sessions. Worried, Blair had peppered him with questions — Was the hotel all right? Did his senses go haywire? — and after Blair had brewed him tea and fussed over him as only the son of a Jewish mother could, it didn't seem right to chase after a woman in Spokane when Blair so clearly loved him.
Jim's gaze fell on his partner, who was deep in conversation with Rafe about a case on the other side of the bullpen. Tuning in, Jim realized that Blair was wrapping up said conversation. Quickly, Jim closed the pictures. He'd figure out a way to get them printed later; he wasn't about to ask Blair.
Ever since his father's pre-July 4th visit, Blair had been carefully distant. On the surface, everything looked fine: he was still Jim's partner, still Jim's Guide, still Jim's lover. Yet when it came to Cody, Blair deferred to Jim.
Telling himself that he shouldn't expect his lover to be his son's father, Jim took a deep breath and sucked it up. As time passed, he lost sleep and he lost weight, but he gamely kept up with his son's demands, never once letting Blair know how much the effort cost him. Thankful for the Sentinel awareness that kept Cody's crying to a minimum, Jim crept down the stairs at night, soothing the teething child.
Jim had fucked up a relationship like this before, hiding secrets he couldn't share with his significant other. He knew it was only a matter of time before it all went to hell. Still, he didn't want to burden Blair with his son if Blair didn't want to be a father; it was only right that Jim took the responsibility. If it meant he spent less time in the field, and more time chained to a desk, doing phone interviews and email follow-ups, then it was all good. Cody needed his father until he was old enough to search for his Guide; that meant that Jim had to stay safe until then.
God knew Cody had already lost enough.
Still, as he trudged up the stairs less than an hour before he was supposed to get up for the day, his son settled once again, he couldn't help the flare of resentment that surged through him at the burden he carried. Jim knew he should talk to his lover, tell him how he was feeling, but Jim was sure if he said something, Blair would leave. He didn't want to risk that.
Pulling into the lot across from the loft, Blair let out a small victory cry. His favorite spot — the one that started the row — wasn't taken, which meant that he had enough room to open his doors. Any later, and he was liable to have to squeeze in between Jim's truck and at least one of the other resident's SUVs. Caught up in his celebration, he almost didn't hear his phone ring. Blair reached for it blindly, not checking the caller ID.
"Naomi!" Blair exclaimed in surprise.
"Is this a good time?" she asked. "You're not at a stakeout or anything like that?"
"No, no, it's good," Blair assured her. "You caught me in the parking lot; I was grocery shopping." Easily, he juggled his phone so he could pick up the two full canvas tote bags from his trunk. "So where are you? You haven't been answering my emails."
"Oh, darling, I did get them, but I'm working on a project for Trevor Hurst — you remember Trevor, don't you? You and he got along so well — he took you to the National playoffs that one time — "
Yeah, the last time anyone took me to a baseball game in order to see if I was okay with the idea of him trying to ask you to settle down, Blair thought, feeling a pang of viciousness. Trevor was shocked when I said you wouldn't, but he was welcome to try. He wanted so much to be my dad — almost as much as he wanted to be with you. Guess he must be divorced by now.
"— he misses you, by the way, but you should come and meet his daughter — what an absolutely lovely woman, very intelligent — her mother was the inspiration for the program, but she's dead now — breast cancer, they didn't detect it until it was already too late — "
Which means Trevor is on your list, again, for Mr. Right now, Blair thought as he managed to shut his trunk and headed for the loft. A voice in his head reminded him that he was being uncharitable towards his mother, but he'd seen the wreckage of her love life far too often. Naomi would never settle down, and Trevor was one of those guys who'd spend forever hoping she would.
"— anyway, Trevor has this project where he helps underprivileged children in India, and I'm helping coordinate the volunteers. You should come help — it's really a great program; you'll find it really rewarding."
"Mom, I can't leave," Blair said, setting the bags down temporarily so he could unlock the lobby door to the condo units. "I have a job — "
"Surely Simon can spare you for a few weeks. Tell you what — I'll call him and talk to him."
"No!" Anger spilled out, making the single word more forceful than Blair had intended. Breathing deeply, he negotiated his way into the lobby. "Naomi, if you love me, don't interfere again."
"Naomi, no. Three times no. I'm finally in a place where I like what I'm doing for a living, okay? I'm fighting the war against tyranny and injustice from the inside, changing cultures and shaping the community from a position of strength and respect."
Dubiously, Naomi replied, "I hear you. I still think coming out here, even for a few days, would be a good idea."
"No, I can't. Jim needs my help."
Puzzled, Naomi asked, "With what?"
"Do you read my emails or just notice they come in?"
Offended, Naomi replied, "Of course I read them. I just can't reply to them because I haven't figured out how to use this new phone to type words."
"Then you know Jim has a son."
"You're such a sweetheart for helping out with that," Naomi said. "Just don't stay too long — people start to take you for granted then, and you know how that goes. Best to let the parent be a parent and not rely on everyone else. You were so grown up when you were little — you never wanted anyone to watch you! Why, I remember when you ran out into the jungle and had the whole village worried. I kept telling everyone you were fine, but — "
Suddenly not interested in a trip down memory lane in which Naomi remembered his childhood with more fondness than he did, Blair said, "Mom, I'm getting in the elevator and my phone's going to cut out. I'll talk to you later. Love you!" and hung up the phone, switching off the ringer as he did so.
Blair ignored the vibration of his phone in his pocket, well aware he was tempting his mother to show up in person. At the moment, he didn't care. All he wanted was to put the groceries away and spend a few hours in peace.
He stepped into the loft to find Jim asleep on the couch. Cody lay securely on top of his father, equally out for the count. Unable to resist, Blair grabbed a camera and snapped a picture. Neither Ellison stirred.
Never stay too long, his mother's voice echoed in Blair's head. People start to take you for granted then. Swallowing hard, Blair put the camera down. He'd promised Jim he'd stay and help take care of Cody. Blair didn't want that to be a lie, but he wasn't so sure now. Jim didn't seem to need help. After the first few weeks in which Jim had constantly asked for Blair's participation in caring for Cody, Jim had backed off. Blair figured it was because they had a professional nanny to care for Cody while they were at work; any questions Jim might have, Ann could answer, or Jim could look up one of the many baby-care web sites Blair had bookmarked on Jim's desktop computer in their bedroom. Cody's sensitivities seemed to be magnified versions of his father's, with taste and touch apparently being the worst depending on how Cody felt that day. Blair had tried to keep a journal to track Cody's progress, but the look on Jim's face when he'd found Blair writing in it had left a sour feeling in Blair's stomach, and he'd stopped. He'd put the journal away and hadn't seen it since; he figured Jim had burned it.
Maybe it would be better for Blair to tread carefully for a while. His relationship with Jim was relatively new; they were still trying to figure out how to balance being lovers with all the other demands on their time. Blair hadn't ever been in a relationship where what he did mattered as much; he didn't want to screw this one up.
Naomi stared at the more secure entrance to the residential part of the building and felt a surge of resentment and anger. Breathing deeply, she forced herself to be calm. Just because the building was more secure did not mean she was excluded from entry…just delayed. Surely, someone would let her in; after all, her son lived here.
She waited twenty minutes, hoping that someone would come by. Yet no one did. She knew Blair's cell number had changed, as he'd sent her an email with the new number, saying that his old one had been part of a university-related cell phone test program. She, however, had forgotten to write it down, relying on her own cell phone's memory to remember it for her. That was before she found out leaving the phone without a charge for too long also wiped the memory. With her customary acceptance of fate, she figured she could just come to the loft and use the spare key Blair always left somewhere if he wasn't home. Surely, he would be there: how many hours could a police consultant work anyway?
Jim's cell number had apparently changed again as well. Calling Simon's office only resulted in Naomi being redirected to the automated Cascade PD switchboard, causing her to hang up in disgust. She wanted to talk to a human being, not a machine.
Stymied, she decided to try the real estate office, which was advertising a unit available. The sales agent greeted her cordially, but upon learning what Naomi wanted, immediately refused. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but unless you know how to get a hold of your son, I'm not allowed to let you in. We pride ourselves on having a very secure building. Perhaps you'd like to leave him a message?"
Naomi pasted on a smile. "No, I'll just try reaching him at work."
"Sorry, but we've had some issues with some very disturbed individuals. One even tried to plant a bomb. Fortunately, the police were right on top of it and no one was hurt."
Naomi smiled tightly, worry fluttering in her stomach, and exited. A half hour bus ride later, she was at the central precinct. Once again, she was disconcerted by the increased security at the main entrance to the station, which reminded her of airport security. All visitors were funneled through the security screening. Before she could step inside, however, she heard her name called.
Turning, she saw a sharply dressed older man standing beside a well-maintained, older model luxury sedan in the loading area. He approached her confidently.
"Naomi Sandburg? I'm William Ellison, Jim's father. I thought we could use the afternoon to get acquainted while our sons are working."
Naomi studied him a moment. He didn't look much like his son, but the same hard edge to his aura was there. Here was a man who expected his orders to be obeyed. Recognizing she was being manipulated away from the station, she nonetheless decided to go with the flow.
Smiling, she accepted the invitation. As befitting a gentleman of his generation, he helped her into the vehicle before getting in behind the wheel and starting the engine.
"I'm not very good at talking and driving, I'm afraid," William said apologetically, looking at her. "I promise I'll answer any questions when we get to where we're going. I hope you're hungry — I haven't had lunch yet and there's a Thai restaurant not far from here."
"Plum Blossom Thai," Naomi said with a nod. "They have the most wonderful pumpkin coconut soup."
William smiled. "I've met Jim and Blair there several times." Taking his cue, he checked his mirrors and merged smoothly into traffic.
Twenty minutes later, they were seated at the restaurant and their orders had been taken. Deliberately, William kept his conversation throughout the ensuing meal to more generalized topics, neatly blocking all her attempts to redirect it to the subject of their sons. By the time their plates were cleared and the bill paid, she realized she'd miscalculated, badly. William was not convinced she was on the right side of whatever equation was on the board.
Naomi looked directly across the table to William.
"You promised answers."
William nodded. "Your attempt to get into the loft was reported, per standard procedure." At her alarmed gasp, he went on, "Any attempt is reported. The security protocols on the loft were instituted earlier this year. Even I wasn't aware of the extent of them until a few months ago." He took a deep breath and let it out. "My son — our sons do amazing work together. The unfortunate tradeoff is that their work makes them targets."
"Surely if everyone knows where they live, then the reasonable thing to do would be to move." Naomi poured tea into their cups, then took a careful sip. "Blair's used to moving; I can't begin to count the places we've lived. If the danger's so great, why, I know the perfect places to go where no one can follow us."
William leaned forward slightly. "The time might come when that's an option we need to take," he said seriously. "However, that time is not yet. I have been assured that staying put and enhancing security is the better option at this time. So far, that strategy has worked, but it won't continue to work if you believe you can charm your way into — or out of — any situation."
Naomi flinched. "Blair mentioned he was working as a consultant. He can take time off."
Sighing, William looked at her pityingly. "That's the job title, but it's a special peace officer's position — the department couldn't protect him otherwise. The Chief of Police demanded it, after everything that's happened to Blair while he was 'observing' Jim. That badge I understand you saw was for a detective position, but Blair wanted to remain a consultant. The result was a compromise, but he's still a police officer, licensed to carry."
Naomi looked horrified. "He hates guns."
"Still does," William offered with a wry chuckle. "I made the mistake of assuming otherwise a few weeks ago." The older man grew serious. "He's not five years old, Naomi. You can't sweep into his life and expect him to rearrange it just because you're in town. He has a job he loves; he's respected by his peers, and he's worked hard to overcome your well-meaning mistake."
"I apologized for that," Naomi said stiffly, insulted. "I'm proud of the work Blair does; he's always done well with whatever he sets his mind to do. But I'm his mother. You're not his father."
"No, and I wasn't the best parent either. Jimmy went into the military; Steven avoided me as much he could, and I was left with a cold and empty house for the better part of twenty years. If it wasn't for your son, I probably wouldn't be talking to either of my children. I'd be dead and Steven would be in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Moreover, Jimmy would be in some psychiatric hospital, misdiagnosed and misunderstood." William held her gaze, capturing her hand when she started to look away. "You raised a son any parent would be proud of, and he's doing something he feels is worthwhile. You come in, with no advance warning, and you have no idea of the ripples you cause."
Anger flashed through Naomi. "I don't see what's so important that I can't see my son at work."
"Naomi, even I can't get to your son right now," William said gently. "The mayor has requested that he give a short seminar on improving community relations with the police to the city council, and that presentation is going on this afternoon. Blair is not happy, as that presentation takes him away from helping with several priority cases within the Major Crimes department. Blair is well liked, respected, and highly valued as a consultant."
Naomi blinked. "My son is presenting to the mayor? He's a ... special peace officer?" she repeated, abruptly confused, hands fluttering as she tried to comprehend the difference. "I know Jim and Simon assured me they'd work something out, but I was sure Blair wouldn't take that badge, not after everything. I didn't think his reputation would…." Her voice trailed off as she stared at William. "You helped regain his reputation."
"No, that was mostly Steven's work. I merely answered a question for Steven; it wasn't until later I realized what my younger son had accomplished. It might have been easier had I been privy to all the details, but…" Shrugging, William leaned back and sipped tea. "Steven wanted to impress his brother and me. He succeeded. More to the point, he won Blair the right to defend a dissertation — not the one that you submitted — and Blair now has his PhD." William looked at Naomi, clearly wondering what had been going through her head to make the mistake she made. "A lot has changed in three years, Naomi, and no, it wasn't easy…or cheap. I've come to admire your son greatly, especially since his love for my son changed so much in my life."
Naomi stared at William, annoyed that he saw her as being wrong. "I would think that you wouldn't approve of such a relationship."
The older man met her stare evenly. "My son would die without your son," he said bluntly. "Even before I watched the press conference, Naomi, I knew that much. When I saw the press conference, I saw a man who was desperate to protect someone he loved, regardless of the cost or consequences. Did you?"
"I thought by now Blair would be over that silly infatuation." With a flutter of her hand, Naomi dismissed the attraction.
William snorted. "You don't know your son, Naomi."
"And you do?" she sneered. "Your precious son brought mine into a world of violence."
For a moment, William didn't reply. He studied her a moment, measuring her, and she had to fight the urge to squirm under that unrelenting gaze.
"If I had my way, Naomi," he said finally, sighing resignedly, "both of my sons would be running Ellison Industries. Would that suit you better? Wealth and the machinations of corporate power? I'm sure you've protested against that as much as you've protested against everything else." Pointedly, he added, "And I was given to understand you were the one who pushed my son to make sure what happened didn't affect his relationship with Blair. That you were more supportive of Blair and Jim's efforts than you're acting now, which makes me wonder why."
Caught by that logic, Naomi bought time by studiously pouring tea into her cup. Finally, she sighed. "I just thought it would be nice if I took Blair on a trip. He never seems to pay attention when I try to talk to him on the phone. I must be getting predictable if someone suggested you come and talk to me. Who was it?"
"Simon Banks," William told her.
Surprised, Naomi's eyes widened. Alarm rippled through her; Simon was someone who hadn't ever been convinced she was everything she claimed to be. "Not Jim?" she asked hopefully.
"Jim's in court all day, testifying on a case," William replied, a hint of a smile gracing his lips. "Cody is being cared for, if that's your concern."
Naomi eyed her dining partner warily as she pressed a hand to her breast, hurt by the accusation. "I don't understand why everyone seems convinced I'm going to do something bad. All I want is to see Blair."
Now William's face hardened. "And do what, exactly? Burn sage in the loft? Jim's allergic to it; I imagine Cody's worse."
"Cody?" She frowned, trying to remember why she should know that name. She knew she had a tendency to be overly focused on what she wanted, and sometimes missed things she'd dismissed as unimportant in that moment.
William's eyes sharpened on her, and she felt a frisson of fear. "My grandson. The one you've been conveniently ignoring for most of our conversation, though I suspect that Blair must've mentioned him for you to come out here after being away for the better part of three years."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I just didn't recognize the name," Naomi lied to cover the fact she'd recognized it, and been relieved that she didn't have to worry about Jim's son. She'd extrapolated William's words to mean that for the same reason, Blair didn't have to worry about Cody, either, which fit neatly into her plans. "I would've figured Jim would have been more inclined for a more…conventional name."
"He didn't have a choice in the matter," William explained. His body language indicated he didn't quite buy the lie Naomi had offered.
"Well, as long as Jim's happy with it, I'm sure it — "
"He's not why you're here," William interrupted her. "At least, you're not here for him. Let me see. From what Blair's told me of you, I'm guessing…tickets to somewhere with a spiritual healer you've heard is 'absolutely wonderful,' and a plan that keeps you and Blair out of reach for as long as it's possible to break the 'unnatural' hold my son has on your son. You're probably convinced that whatever relationship they have has some kind of time limit, maybe even run its course by now. Love doesn't last forever anyway. If Blair goes with you, well…absence does make the heart grow fonder, doesn't it?"
Caught, Naomi could only stare. "I just…" she started to say, but her words failed her. Jim had looked at her with the same steely determination, she remembered abruptly. Clearly, he'd learned that look from his father, and she shivered.
William's smile of satisfaction didn't reach his eyes. "You see, Naomi, I've come to adore your son. He's giving my grandson a very nice counterpoint to the way I raised Jim." William paused to let that sink in. "Be a shame if you gave them any idea that you didn't support that notion."
"And I suppose Cody's mother is perfectly happy with the money you paid her," Naomi sneered.
"Paid?" William repeated incredulously. "She was dead before Jimmy even knew he had a son!"
Prepared to do battle, it took a moment before what William had said sank into Naomi's head. Naomi gasped as she flinched at the echo of her own experience: by the time she'd gathered up the courage to tell Blair's father he had a son, the man was dead.
Aware he had an advantage, William pressed, "Give it up, Naomi. Your son has planted roots here — roots you've been trying to destroy since he decided to emancipate himself at sixteen and do something as conventional as going to college. He doesn't talk about it much, but those stories slip out: how you decided he absolutely had to go on a six-month tour of some village in Africa, even if it meant he lost the balance of a grant and was ineligible to get it again while studying for his bachelor's. Or how you interfered with a study he was on in Thailand. Or how you've managed on three separate occasions to interfere with a police investigation, regardless of how helpful you were in the process." Leaning forward, William added, "All a parent can do is let go. If you're lucky, your children come back and let you visit."
"But Blair's always enjoyed our trips together." She met William's accusing eyes without flinching, secure in her knowledge.
William raised an eyebrow. "He's not going to go this time, and not likely any others, Naomi. The time to drag him all over the world is past. Just like it is with my ambitions for my sons."
Not quite willing to surrender, but aware she was out of options, Naomi sat back and sipped tea as she contemplated the information she'd been given. When she had finished her cup, she waved away William's offer of a refill and asked, "Would you be interfering now if my son hadn't impressed you?"
William met her gaze. "You raised a good man, Naomi."
She accepted the compliment with a small nod and a smile. Then she straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. "So did you." William was a stern man, she decided, but not someone who was so stern they were narrow-minded. Still, it wouldn't hurt to flirt, she concluded: she'd certainly met enough men like him over the years that she wouldn't be able to charm him.
She met William's gaze boldly, leaning forward flirtatiously, and then suggested, "I'd like to start over. My name's Naomi Sandburg. My son loves your son more than I will ever understand."
William laughed ruefully. "Likewise, I'm afraid."
She chuckled, for the first time seeing him as a fellow parent trying to make sense of his child's choices.
"On a more serious note," William said, "since you probably didn't think you'd be in town long — is there any place I can take you?"
Relieved not to have to spend the rest of the afternoon in his company, Naomi took the lifeline that was offered. "If it's not too much trouble, you can drop me off at the farmer's market downtown. I have a few friends there I would love to see. Do you think Blair will be working long?"
"Hopefully not," William told her as they rose and moved away from the table. "We usually have family dinner together one Wednesday a month, and tonight's that night. You're welcome to come."
"Seven-thirty, at my house — 586 Magnolia Ridge Way."
Naomi smiled in genuine pleasure. "I'll be there."
"Looks like we're the last ones here," Blair noted as Jim pulled up behind Simon's sedan. "I thought this was supposed to be a family dinner."
Jim grinned and shut off the engine. "It is. Your mother is here, and it wouldn't be right for her to be alone at the table."
Blair stared at him, then shook his head. "That almost makes sense; your dad isn't going to push anyone on Steven since your brother made it clear he's not interested. I can't see your dad playing matchmaker for Simon, though; there's gotta be another reason."
Shrugging, Jim unbuckled Cody's car carrier from the center of the bench seat and maneuvered it out of the vehicle as Blair exited the truck. "We'll find out soon enough."
William greeted them at the door. Deftly using the excuse of checking out his grandson, he quietly warned them, "Naomi tried to get into the loft earlier today by trying to charm the sales agent. She followed protocol and reported the incident to Dispatch, who notified Simon. Simon thought we should meet and talk. She may be a bit upset with me."
Blair smiled grimly. "Thanks for the heads up, William."
Looking relieved, William stepped back, allowing them further entrance into the room as he said more loudly, "It's good you're here. Did you want to put Cody in your old room, Jim?"
"Probably best," Jim agreed. "Ann said he wore himself out trying to walk earlier today; he's mastered standing and picking up toys." Not waiting for William's reaction, Jim headed upstairs, pausing only when Steven joined him.
Blair didn't have much of a chance to digest Cody's latest development, or dwell on why Jim hadn't bothered to mention it during the drive over, before William commanded his attention. Biting back a sigh, Blair smiled at the older man and took the cue to follow him.
"How did your presentation with the mayor go?" William asked Blair as he led the way into the dining room, where everyone else was gathered in a loose group near the formally set table.
"I doubt anything I suggested will get implemented this year," Blair said honestly. "I'm sure my presentation will wind up as a sound bite on the news, though — the city council can now say they conducted a study and move on."
"Blair! You didn't used to be this cynical!" Naomi chided, hearing him.
He offered her a tired smile. "Sorry, Mom, but trying to change the system from within looks a lot easier when you're standing on the outside, carrying signs and shouting."
"All the more reason to take a break," Naomi said, ignoring William's glare.
Blair laughed, hugging her. "And undo all the hard work I've done so far?" he countered easily as he stepped back. "Lose all that momentum? Weren't you the one to tell me to never give up when I'd made progress?"
Caught by her own logic, Naomi paused, then chuckled softly. "You should burn some sage, do a cleansing ritual. It'll do you wonders."
"I will, I promise," Blair reassured her. "Though I'll substitute sweet grass — you remember how much Jim sneezed the last time you burned sage. I really don't want to find out how allergic Cody is to it."
Naomi's eyes widened as she briefly pressed her right hand to her breast. "Oh, that's right; you're helping Jim with his son, aren't you?"
"You have a problem with that, Naomi?" Jim's deadly quiet voice cut across the room.
Aware that everyone was staring at her, Naomi shifted uncomfortably. "No, of course not," she said hastily. "I just thought maybe you'd want — "
"There's really no good way to finish that sentence without insulting me, Jim, or everyone in this room," Blair noted mildly.
Naomi inhaled deeply before letting the breath out. "No, and I'm sorry, Blair. William tried to explain it to me earlier. I hear you now."
"Good," Blair said. "So where have you been?"
Grateful for the change of topic, Naomi said, "Oh, you remember Trevor Hunt? Anyway, he runs this wonderful program that helps disadvantaged children in India, and I've been there helping out the last eight weeks. He'd love to have me back, but my visa's expiring, and so I had to tell him I'd come back another time."
"I thought you'd given up doing that work," Blair said. "Too heartbreaking."
"Oh, but you have to balance out your karma," Naomi countered breezily. She hugged him. "Now that I've seen you, I think it's best if I get going. I have reservations at this absolutely fabulous spa in Arizona and my flight leaves in two hours."
"You're not going to stay for dinner?" William asked, surprised.
"No, but thank you for including me," Naomi said. "And I'll get to the airport just fine — no need to call a cab." Like a whirlwind, she was gone.
"Did she do that to you a lot?" William demanded. "Here one moment, gone the next?"
Blair shrugged awkwardly, uncomfortable with the protectiveness William was showing. "She's just stopped by to say hi before."
William brooded a moment before telling Blair, "She had plans to take you with her."
Blair laughed, surprised that William was worried. "She always does. I drive her crazy that way. She doesn't understand that because I've been everywhere, I don't necessarily want to go back." Gently, he added, "It's okay. Naomi's a free spirit — if I counted on her to be any different, she wouldn't be my mother."
"It's okay, Dad," Jim added. "Better that she left now than stayed."
"Especially since she disapproves of your job," Steven put in, surprising his brother and Blair.
"Mine or Blair's?" Jim asked.
"Both," Steven said simply. "When she found out I'm in charge of the management of the racetrack, she asked me if that was ever a dangerous occupation." Looking at his father, he ruefully continued, "She also made some comments about how wastefully large this house was."
"You must've really annoyed her," Blair said to William. "She usually isn't that offensive."
"Usually?" Jim derided. "She called me a pig the first time we met, in my own house no less."
Annoyed, Blair shot back, "She apologized."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Eventually." He let out a breath. "In any case: she's your mother."
"Yes, and I forgive her for a lot of things," Blair said evenly. "You gotta let it go, man. All that negative energy builds up and causes illness. Don't you think so, Steven?"
"If you're talking a heart attack, sure, I can buy that," Steven said with smile as Sally started bringing dishes out from the kitchen.
To the group, Sally said, "Tonight's dinner is hoisin pork, stir-fried noodles and green beans with ginger. Jimmy, does Cody need anything?"
Jim shook his head. "Ann fed him dinner before we got home, so he should sleep the rest of the night."
"Thank you, Sally," William returned. "Shall we eat?"
William took the head of the table, Jim to his right, Steven to his left. Blair took the seat next to Jim, across from Simon.
For several minutes, no one said much as they ate; silverware clinked against china and interspersed with requests to pass various platters. Then Jim looked at Steven. "So when do we get to meet the new girlfriend?"
Steven rolled his eyes. "No new girlfriend," he denied, as Blair smothered a chuckle. "No, really. I changed dry cleaners and this one's supposed to be environmentally friendly, no carcinogens." He made a face. "If I can smell lilac, I imagine it smells like perfume to you, Jimmy."
Jim shot his younger brother a disbelieving look, then took another sniff. "Okay, you win," he conceded. "Smells better than regular dry cleaning solvent."
"Yes, but lilac is not manly," Steven argued. He took a sip of his drink.
Blair couldn't let that lie. "In some cultures, the wearing of — "
"Yes," Steven interrupted quickly, "but in this one I'm living in, it's not."
"Nicely done," Simon said admiringly.
Blair shot his boss a dirty look. "I'll remember this the next time you want to know what the meaning of a feather at a crime scene is," he threatened.
"We're off the clock, Sandburg," Simon reminded him.
Undeterred, Blair turned to Steven. "Scent is not gender-specific."
"Yes it is," Jim countered.
Blair rolled his eyes. "I'm not talking pheromones. Culturally speaking — "
"What do you mean, it is?" William interrupted, putting down his fork and looking at his eldest son. "You can tell the difference?"
"Yes," Jim replied, only barely hiding his shock at his father's interest. Swallowing his surprise, Jim clarified, "Perfume makers know this, so they create scents that are gender-specific — in essence, mimicking the scent of pheromones."
"Blair helped you figure that out?" William asked, clearly trying to understand.
To Blair, William asked, "Did Naomi teach you this, this…?"
"Differences in scents I learned from someone who tests fragrances for a company. Naomi taught me to accept that differences were a part of life."
"Still doesn't change my opinion of lilac," Steven insisted. "And I'm not entirely convinced it's worth the extra cost." He held up a hand as he warded off the lecture from Blair. "And we can debate the environmental impact and everything else later, Blair. As for your mother — accepting differences would be a serious survival skill with her, wouldn't it?" Steven grinned, taking the sting out of his words.
Before Blair could react, Steven changed the subject. "Speaking of girlfriends — Dad, you're not going to drag me along to the Cascade Holiday Hope again this year."
"Why not?" William demanded, bewildered, before he took a sip of his drink. "You enjoyed yourself last year."
Steven rolled his eyes. "You're supposed to bring a date, not your son." He speared a piece of pork and ate it.
"Holiday Hope…that's the big fundraiser for Children's Hospital, isn't it?" Simon interjected as he put his fork down on his now-empty plate.
"It's right before Thanksgiving," William said with a nod. To his younger son, he said, "I really don't think it's appropriate to be discussing my dating at the dinner table."
His sons exchanged amused glances. "Why not?" Jim countered, grinning. "You certainly discussed our dates over dinner numerous times."
Caught by that logic, William looked at them exasperatedly as Blair tried not to snicker.
"My son does the same thing to me," Simon offered sympathetically. "Especially after his mother started dating."
Grateful for the olive branch, William took it. "How old is your son?"
"Twenty-one," Simon replied. "He's attending Rainier on a full scholarship, studying criminal justice. Wants to follow in my footsteps. Told him he had to go to college first." Simon shook his head, pride warring with protectiveness. "He's already been talking with some of the instructors at the Academy, finding out what he needs to prepare for. Thank God he's got another year of college before he can go to the Academy, or else he'd already be a cop."
"You don't want him to be an officer?" William asked carefully.
"Twice already he's been in a hostage situation," Simon explained. "Second time only made him want to be like me all the more. Said he wants to help put guys like Kincaid away."
"Is there an education requirement for police officers?" Steven wondered.
"To make detective rank, yes," Simon replied. "Master's degrees are preferred for lieutenant rank or higher; otherwise you have to have the equivalent supervisory certification from an approved agency."
Blair narrowed his gaze on his lover. "Master's degree?"
Jim shrugged. "You don't make rank in the military without education, either."
William looked astonished. "I always thought you only needed a bachelor's to be an officer."
Jim shook his head. "Not if I wanted to go higher than first lieutenant." He shot Simon a look. "And yes, I'm thinking about taking the promotion test."
"What?" Blair asked, alarmed. "I thought you didn't want to lead again — you said as much last year when you were complaining you had to go to that conference in Spokane."
"Last year," Jim replied evenly, aware of his family's sudden interest, "I didn't have a son. And no, Chief, I'm not abandoning the tribe — just reconsidering the angles, long-term."
Blair sighed, not entirely surprised by the declaration. Looking at Steven, he complained mildly, "Someday I'm going to get used to the way your brother drops these bombshells on me."
Steven snorted. "Compared to Jim coming home with Cody, that one's mild," he reminded Blair. To Simon, Steven asked, "So how did my brother inform you he had a son?"
Simon shot Jim a disgusted look.
Jim swallowed a piece of pork and grinned. "I can't help it if you didn't believe my voicemail that I had a family emergency." To his father and brother, Jim explained, "Simon came over to the loft within half an hour of my voicemail. Demanded to know what kind of family emergency it was."
Before Simon could reply to that, his cell phone rang. Excusing himself, he rose from the table to take the call and moved a short distance away. After a few minutes, he put his phone in his pocket. To William, he said, "Thank you for dinner, but duty calls."
"Do you need us?" Jim asked.
Simon shook his head. "Rafe's on call tonight," he explained. "You get home and get some rest."
Jim nodded acknowledgment before Simon turned and exited the room.
"I should get going, too," Steven said into the silence that fell, checking his watch. "The holding company that owns the racetrack wants me to sit in on a videoconference with some Japanese investors in about an hour and a half. This time of night, it'll take me twenty minutes to get to the track."
"We should get going too," Jim added. "Cody's been waking up at midnight and at four am."
Blair glanced sharply at Jim, but, unwilling to argue in front of Jim's family, held his tongue until they were back at the loft.
"Since when has Cody been waking up?" Blair demanded as he watched Jim settle Cody into his bed.
"Since I went back to work," Jim said tiredly.
"You should've woken me up!" Blair chided.
"And what?" Jim demanded, walking out of Cody's room as Blair trailed behind him. "You made it clear that he's not your son, so there's no need for both of us to be up." Jim shrugged, not seeing the flash of anger on his lover's face.
Quickly, Blair got ahead of Jim, stopping him before Jim climbed the stairs to their bedroom. "Don't go putting words in my mouth," Blair snapped. "I'm not going to play daddy just because you think I should."
Jim looked at him with too-calm eyes. "I know," he replied quietly. "That's why I didn't wake you." Then he kissed Blair tenderly, as if he hadn't just shattered Blair with his logic. "You going to take a shower before bed?"
Blair nodded numbly, suddenly needing the excuse of his nightly routine.
His lover smiled. "I'll see you upstairs, then." Neatly, Jim moved around Blair and headed up.
Alone, Blair moved like an automaton to the bathroom, his thoughts and emotions churning. Naomi's whirlwind visit had only served to remind Blair that she'd never stayed in one place too long, and until he'd met Jim, neither had he. School breaks had been interspersed with field trips to various anthropological sites, working to further his degree, or trips with his truck-driving uncle for extra cash, or any number of reasons that had taken him away from Cascade. His uncle had been one of the few constants in his life, and even he hadn't been the best of role models. Then too, by the time Blair had learned he even had relatives, Blair was already old enough to have learned not to attach himself to any possible father-figures. He'd heard his mother reassure him more often than he could count that "if it was meant to be, we wouldn't be leaving." He'd perfected the art of the deep acquaintance, depth without the kind of substance that would leave scars, especially when it came to father figures.
Yet Blair couldn't ignore the fact that he wouldn't be alive if Jim hadn't refused to accept his death. Nor could Blair ignore that for those first few weeks, when Jim needed him to help with Cody, Blair had loved being a parent.
Still, Blair didn't know where he fit now. As far as Blair could tell, Jim had adjusted well to his son's sudden arrival in his life. Cody's problems as a Sentinel had been easily overcome, once they'd figured out what baby products worked best, and which senses seemed to be the most problematic for Cody. Blair had even been prepared to do some deep explanation to Cody's new pediatrician about his senses, but Jim made the appointment on a day when Blair had to work. When Blair had inquired about the doctor's reaction, Jim had said that since Cody's previous medical records (provided by the social worker to Jim when he'd been given Cody) had indicated that Cody had high sensitivities, it wasn't a big deal. For now, the doctor assumed that Cody was an HSP, or a Highly Sensitive Person, and cautioned Jim to be careful about Cody's environment without putting him in a glass bubble.
Both Jim and Blair knew about HSP. Officially, Jim's own medical record listed it as a reason for his many odd reactions to medications. Reading about it had spurred Blair's interest in Sentinels, though he'd been most interested in the anthropological application. Having it listed in Cody's file let the wind out of Blair's sails — he hadn't expected the pediatrician to know about HSP. Nor had he expected Jim to be as matter-of-fact about it as he was.
Then there was the issue of money: between what Jim had invested — both from his own trust fund and Cody's inheritance — and what Jim made as a senior detective, Jim could afford to hire someone to take care of Cody. Beyond the cost of the groceries and utilities, Jim hadn't asked Blair to contribute financially, aware that even after three years and a small settlement from the university, Blair was still paying off student loans. If money was a measure of contribution, Blair knew he'd wind up with the smallest percentage of the total.
The whole thing left Blair flailing for some reason to contribute to Cody's care, without stepping on Jim's toes. Blair was back to feeling as lost as he had in those first few months post the mess with his dissertation when he'd watched Jim get up, go to work, and be paired with Connor, while Blair and Steven fought with lawyers and mediators.
He didn't want to be Cody's dad just because Jim wanted him to be, yet...Blair didn't want Jim to take him for granted, either. Nor did Blair want to be simply Jim's lover — he felt odd, knowing that he lived in the same house, and yet doing little to alleviate the parental load his lover carried. It made him remember how awkward he'd felt as a child, watching the children of Naomi's boyfriend or girlfriend getting punished while he just carried on as if it didn't matter. Back then, it hadn't — Naomi had rarely stayed long enough to allow discipline to be applied to Blair, unless it was within her guidelines.
He didn't know what to do. No one in his life had stepped forward and been the father he'd wanted — the kind he'd seen on TV and sometimes, when he was lucky, with other kids. Of the few who'd come the closest, they'd passed through his life too quickly; his mother had always left when someone pressed for a greater commitment than she was willing to give. He had no role model to follow — all he had were theories and speculations. Oh, sure, he had the advice of all the therapists he'd seen, the guidance of the mentors he'd been assigned in college, but — none of it seemed to apply in this situation.
Cody was too important to treat like some lab rat, and Blair didn't want to seem like that guy he'd been when he'd first met Jim — so sure he had the right way when he was really just winging it by the seat of his pants. Especially since charging forward with his usual determination and enthusiasm didn't seem like the right thing to do anymore. Feeling helpless, Blair finished his shower, not any closer to a resolution than he was when he started.
By the time he was upstairs, Jim was already dozing. When Blair shifted to lie on his right side, Jim's arm came around him, tucking in close as if nothing was wrong. It was a long time before Blair fell asleep.
Something made Blair wake slightly a few days later. He rolled over, expecting to feel the solidity of Jim's body against his, and only felt the expanse of the other half of the bed. Half asleep, Blair thought fuzzily that Jim must've just gone to the bathroom, and quickly fell back into dreamland. He didn't feel Jim place a fussing Cody on his chest, quieting the boy with, "This is my Guide. Listen to his heartbeat and breathe. It's okay, my little cowboy. I know those teeth hurt — hell, the world hurts, but Chief here understands people like us."
"SANDBURG!" Simon bellowed two weeks later, startling Blair out of his concentration on the case file on his desk. He'd been transcribing case notes into the electronic record, wanting to be sure he got in as much detail without going over the maximum field length.
Rising quickly, Blair shut the file before stepping into his boss's office. "If this is about the fires in Old Town, I'm —"
"— Going to close the door, sit down and shut up," Simon ordered.
Blair blinked at the tone of Simon's voice, but did as he was told. Casting an inquiring look at Simon, he gestured expectantly.
"Know where your partner is?" Simon asked coolly.
Startled, Blair realized abruptly he didn't know. Stalling, he offered, "Have you checked the bathroom?"
Simon glared at him. "Wrong answer, Sandburg. Try again."
Confused, Blair stared back. "I thought he was just going down to Forensics," he began, and then looked at his watch. It was just past two pm — too late for lunch, which Blair belatedly realized he'd skipped, and too early for quitting time, even if it was Friday. Thanks to the duty rotation, they had the weekend free. Even if Jim had gone to Forensics, he'd been gone for quite a while.
Simon looked incredulous. "You're supposed to be Jim's partner, damn it. Or are you even trying to pick up the slack?"
"With what?" Blair snapped impatiently, not liking his boss's attitude. "I know Jim's been tired lately, but he said he was fine and I just figured it was the stress of the arson case and that vehicle theft ring — "
"You're supposed to be caring for Cody, too, or is that just too inconvenient for you?" Simon demanded angrily.
"What? Where the hell do you get the idea I don't care about Cody? Of course I care about Cody. What's wrong with him? And why are you yelling at me for it?"
"Aren't you the keeper of the lists, the ones that say what Jim's allergic to and what he's not? Aren't you doing that for Cody too?"
"Of course," Blair bluffed, but he knew he hadn't been, not since Jim had made him feel like he was a step away from turning Cody into a lab rat by keeping notes. "Tell me what's wrong so I can fix it."
"Jim took Cody home with him. Daycare downstairs gave Cody the wrong formula." Simon's gaze pinned Blair. "Not the sort of thing I'd have thought you'd let happen on your watch, Sandburg."
"Look, mistakes happen," Blair argued, even as dread filled his stomach. The wrong formula could kill Cody. "Someone could've gotten in a rush and just thought to give Cody whatever was there. Where are Jim and Cody now?"
Simon just stared at him. "You honestly expect me to believe that garbage, Sandburg? Why isn't your ass on the way home right now?"
"The reports — "
"Take them home and finish them," Simon ordered. "I want them on my desk no later than 9 am tomorrow, or you can kiss your weekend goodbye."
Worried, Blair decided to follow his boss's orders. On his way home, Blair called Jim.
"I just heard about Cody. Is everything OK?"
"We're at the drugstore now, picking up a few things," Jim assured him. "Doctor said Cody's going to be okay, just a little under the weather for the next few hours. If he gets worse, then I'll take him to the ER." Jim paused. "Why?"
"Simon sent me home to make sure I took care of you and Cody," Blair explained. "He was furious I didn't know."
"Listen, he shouldn't have yelled at you. I should've told you when I left. But if you're already on the way…."
"Yeah, I am," Blair said, accelerating through a green light.
"Then we'll see you in about half an hour."
Not entirely reassured, Blair decided he'd just wait until they were together to see for himself how fine Cody was. "Fine" in Ellison terms was a generalized term that could mean anything — and Blair wouldn’t be satisfied until he could verify that for himself. Plus, Blair wanted to know what in the world Cody had been doing in the station's daycare in the first place.
"Man, you're all slicked up," Steven said teasingly the following day, rising from his desk to hug Blair. Dressed in a flannel shirt over a plain white t-shirt, ratty jeans, and sneakers, Blair looked more like the grad student he'd once been than the law enforcement professional he was. In contrast, Steven was attired in a dress shirt and khaki pants. "Laundry day?"
Blair grinned. "No, day off, and a Saturday no less. Haven't seen a Saturday off in a couple of weeks. Decided I'd be comfortable. Figured you'd be here, getting ready for the races tonight."
"Yeah, I like to be here in case something comes up — and something always does." Stepping back, Steven studied his brother's boyfriend. Steven had seen Blair at his worst, when Blair hadn't believed anyone would stand in his corner. While Blair wasn't that bad now, Steven recognized the overly bouncy demeanor that would fool all but Blair's closest friends. Gesturing to the sofa that lined one wall of the office, Steven asked, "So where's my brother and nephew?"
"Keith Morgan's house," Blair explained as he sat down.
"Keith Morgan?" Steven asked, surprised, as he grabbed his desk chair and moved it so he could sit facing Blair. "I thought he enlisted and got the hell out of town."
"Jim did say he and Keith enlisted at the same time," Blair remarked. "I figured they'd been friends before that, but he didn't say how long. You know how he is about giving out information — I didn't even know you existed until that day at the racetrack. I take it you went to school together?"
Steven nodded, chuckling wryly. "All the way back. Keith lived two blocks over. His father was a project manager for one of the big-name engineering firms in town, so Dad didn't feel like we were socializing with the 'wrong people.'" Steven rolled his eyes. "Keith was Jim's best friend; I dated Keith's little sister, Chloe, in high school. Keith punched me for knocking up his little sister."
Blair stared at him, incredulous. "You got a girl pregnant in high school?"
Steven laughed softly. "Chloe certainly thought I had. I'm not sure what was worse: getting punched out by Keith or getting spanked at sixteen while my father lectured about how I shouldn't trust a woman to use birth control." Shaking his head at the memories, Steven went on, "Keith apologized when he found out that his sweet little sister had been fucking half the football team and had just tried to pin the pregnancy on me because of my last name."
Steven shrugged, unperturbed by the observation. "It wasn't my kid, and I wasn't the one gold-digging. Chloe confessed when she saw the black eye her brother had given me." He paused, then shook his head. "Keith Morgan. I haven't heard that name in a long time. How come you're not over there?"
"Didn't feel like going," Blair said. "Keith and his wife, Molly, host these get-togethers once a month. Keith's an okay guy, but I've met all of his friends now, and they all share a few things: ex or current military, Christian, and far more passionate about board games than I ever will be. Jim goes because they occasionally play chess, and now that he's got Cody, he has people outside of the department to hang with who have kids."
"Keith was pretty open-minded as I recall," Steven noted. "But I take it not all of his friends are?"
Blair nodded. "I get tired of trying to change attitudes sometimes. Told Jim I'd go hang with some of my friends for a change."
"And?" Steven prompted, leaning forward.
Blair looked at him innocently. "What? You're not my friend?"
"No, you idiot, the real reason you're here." Steven stared at him. "Look, I know you. If it didn't involve my brother, and involve something you're not willing to discuss with your usual group of friends, you wouldn't be here. So spill."
Blair hesitated. He trusted Steven implicitly. He'd never regretted making Steven a friend, would always be grateful that Steven had helped him navigate the mess the release of his dissertation had caused, but he felt abruptly awkward now. Blood was sometimes thicker than water, and Steven's first loyalty would always be to his older brother. What if Steven thought he was crazy?
"Look, it's probably just my imagination."
"Your imagination?" Steven raised an eyebrow.
"Jim's the one who sees the spirit animals — I don't. Well. Usually don't. This would be clearer if it was that sort of thing — I mean, I'm supposed to be the expert, right? But I didn't grow up with a father and while there were a number of guys who wanted to be, Naomi wouldn't ever let them. It was great, right? They were so busy trying to woo her through me, I got to see — "
"Crap," Steven cut in. "Whatever you got from them was as much crap as I got from my father, because it doesn't mean anything."
"But that's my point. I want it to mean something. I mean, I'm not going to leave Jim, so I'm going to be in Cody's life, but Jim — " Blair got up and started to pace as his hands underscored his words. "Jim's all set to make me Cody's other dad."
Steven considered that. "Makes sense to me," he commented, leaning back in his chair. "So what's the problem?"
Blair sighed. "I said I wasn't ready," he told Steven, dropping onto the couch. "You heard what Jim said about Cody waking up in the night a couple weeks ago, right?"
Steven shook his head. "Not that I recall, no, but I'll take your word on it."
"Anyway, Cody's been doing stuff like that — waking up in the middle of the night, not being able to settle during the day, just growing pains really. I knew Jim was tired, but I didn't know he was on desk duty. Yesterday Simon pulled me into his office and yelled at me for not picking up the slack on Cody — and I didn't know what he was talking about."
"And what was he talking about?"
"On Tuesday, Ann, our nanny, quit by calling Jim on his cell phone. Keeping track of Cody's 'special needs' was too much for her; she'd hoped he'd grow out of them. Jim was hoping she'd stay a while longer — we found a daycare near the station that deals with special needs kids, but they don't have an opening until after the first of the year. We've been working a couple of hot cases, and I knew Jim's been tired lately, but I didn't know he'd put Cody in the daycare at the station."
"I thought you two rode together."
Blair sighed again. "Monday and Tuesday I was in court, Wednesday I was at the DA's office going over depositions, Thursday I had a meeting with the Chief of Police — "
"What for?" Steven interjected, startled.
"Because some other big city Chief of Police noticed that in the last three years, Cascade's crime rate has dropped significantly, and wanted to know what the difference was. Ergo, let's trot out the staff anthropologist."
"I see," Steven murmured. "And you were probably worried about that more than you were worried about what was happening with Jim."
Blair pursed his lips even as he nodded agreement. "Thing is, bad stuff happens when we don't talk, and Jim knows that as well as I do."
"So what kept you so busy that you didn't notice anything was wrong?"
"Friday I was head-deep in typing up reports, and when Jim left, he just said that he'd see me later. Half an hour later, I'm in Simon's office getting my ass reamed."
"And when you got home?"
"Jim said Simon was wrong to yell at me; wasn't my fault the daycare screwed up, gave Cody the wrong formula, and Jim wound up having to take him home and work from home the rest of the day." Blair let out a breath. "It's like Jim doesn't want to burden me with Cody, so he's doing all the work."
"If you don't want to be Cody's dad, why should he burden you?" Steven asked reasonably. "He knows as well as I do if you hire good help, you can get by just fine. He'll have to make it clear to Cody wishing Mommy will show up won't happen, but he'll have me and Dad around to reinforce that. Might take a while and a lot of money, but — " Steven shrugged "—money is something we Ellisons tend to throw at problems. Speaking of — did my father try to bribe you in any way?"
Blair's lips thinned with anger. "No. You of all people know I wouldn't take a bribe like that anyway."
With a small shrug, Steven conceded the point. "Hard to know what you're going to do, Blair. You're not acting like the confident guy I know."
Blair stared at him. "What?"
Steven sighed, then leaned forward. "When I first found out about Cody, you were the one ticking off the list of what my brother needed — hell, you almost got me to pay for six months' worth of cloth diapers on a bet. You had my brother convinced you were the Man with a Plan. What's different now?"
Unable to articulate his fears, Blair rose, moving to stand before the picture window that overlooked the racetrack.
Steven let him stand there a moment, watching him. "What bothers you more, that my brother's not glued to your hip anymore, or that he's listened to you enough that he can handle raising Cody alone?"
Blair turned, eyes blazing with anger. "Jim was never glued to my hip."
The younger Ellison laughed. "He tracks you with his senses the way he used to track me when we were kids," Steven said pointedly. "I recognize that look, that way he relaxes when he knows you're near. You might as well be. What, do you think my brother takes you for granted?"
"He didn't want me to stay home with Cody when I offered."
"Because you went through hell to be a police consultant and you define yourself by your job." Steven ripped out the words impatiently. "Did you just offer to give it up because you thought it would make Jim happy?"
"He's the one who didn't want his son to be raised by strangers! What else was I supposed to say? He's certainly not going to stay home with Cody — he drove me bananas while I was telecommuting during his paternity leave!"
"Oh, and I suppose you didn't solicit his opinion at all, either, during that time?" Steven pressed. "Don't put it all on my brother if you did."
Blair didn't meet Steven's eyes. "So?"
"Damn it, Blair, I don't live with you and I can tell you love that work. You love fighting the system from within, trying to make it better for everyone. That passion was one of the reasons I agreed to help you regain your reputation — the other was because I've never seen my brother love anyone the way he loves you. He's not going to let you go, even if it means he makes sure you're not bothered by Cody." Steven paused, then added, "We Ellisons learned really well how not to bother people with our problems."
Blair flinched. "Jim knows he can talk to me about anything."
"But you just said he's not talking to you about Cody," Steven countered. "Were you making notes on Cody?"
Anger flared through Blair. "I just wanted to a way to track his progress, that's all. I'm not turning him into a lab rat!"
"Did you tell Jim why you were making notes?" Steven asked.
"He knows I make notes on everything. I didn't think he'd mind."
Steven just looked at him, clearly disappointed. "Mind? Of course my paranoid brother won't mind. What the fuck were you thinking?"
"See, this is why I wasn't going to talk to you," Blair said tiredly. "You'd just side with him. You're family after all."
"Right," Steven drawled. "That's why we managed to live in the same city for fifteen years and not talk."
At Blair's scoff, Steven rolled his eyes. "You know that's true. You always manage to work past my brother's issues with trust, so what's different this time? Don't you want to be a daddy?"
"I never said I didn't — " Abruptly remembering he had said exactly that, Blair fumbled. "Damn it, I didn't mean it — oh hell, I've been listening to Naomi again." Hanging his head, he said, "Shit."
Steven eyed him wryly. "You're welcome. Now go, scoot, before one of Keith's friends says something that Jim will make him regret."
Blair had pulled up next to Keith's full driveway, behind Jim's truck, and had just gotten out of his car when Jim walked out the door, carrying Cody in his car seat. Seeing Blair, Jim veered over to where he was.
"Problem?" Jim asked.
Blair shook his head, unwilling to get into a possible argument in a public space. "No, I just figured I'd try to meet up with you and you weren't answering your phone."
"Saw it was you and heard your car," Jim told him, looking worried. "Figured you could just tell me in person. Everything okay?"
"Mostly." Needing the reassurance, Blair stole a kiss. "Now it is. Come on, I'll meet you at home."
Out of habit, Blair let Jim lead the way home. Jim's driving tended to be less reckless when they weren't in pursuit of a suspect; since Cody's arrival, it had become even more precise, more controlled, especially when Cody was in the vehicle — which wasn't to say that Jim didn't still have a bit of a lead foot. Blair almost laughed at the change, but he knew Jim wouldn't understand the humor.
Silently, Blair kicked himself for holding back so long. He'd been so sure that Jim would hate him for screwing up decisions where Cody was concerned, he'd lost sight of the fact that Jim hadn't hesitated to trust him with his son. Still, despite his conversation with Steven, Blair couldn’t shake the sense of dread that filled him and knotted his stomach.
Then he saw Cody's hand stretching up above the car seat, waving a toy, and his resolve strengthened. Blair would do this; he loved Cody; he loved Cody's father. Nothing else mattered.
Half an hour later, they were back at the loft. Jim woke Cody from his vehicle-induced nap as Blair rummaged through the fridge and pantry, pulling ingredients together for dinner. The normalcy of the routine gave Blair both comfort and time to pull together the words he needed.
"Pork, rice and vegetables sound good to you? We need to go to the store tomorrow; we're running low on everything."
Jim settled Cody into his high chair. "I'm not that hungry," Jim said. "Molly made burgers."
Blair bit back a sigh and put back the package of pork he'd pulled from the fridge as Jim maneuvered around him to grab a can of formula, a bottle, and a jar of organic baby food. Deftly, Jim prepared the bottle as Cody began to vocalize, rocking in his chair.
"Easy, cub, you'll get that in a minute," Jim said soothingly, setting the bottle aside in favor of opening the jar. Sniffing it experimentally, he then waved it past his son's nose. Cody froze, then smiled. "Sweet potatoes for dinner it is," Jim said, pleased, stepping back to grab the baby spoon from the drainer. Settling in the chair beside Cody, Jim began to feed his son.
Blair watched in silence for a few minutes, feeling a sharp pang in his gut. Turning away so Jim couldn't see his face, Blair busied himself with making a vegetarian dinner for one. By the time the rice and vegetable dish was done, Cody was happily washing down his sweet potatoes with formula.
"Smells good," Jim noted as Blair served himself.
"Thought you weren't hungry," Blair said, annoyance creeping into his tone.
Jim looked surprised. "I'm not. Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it." He studied Blair a moment as the other man ate. "You're pissed at me."
"When were you going to tell me Ann quit?"
Jim shrugged, catching the bottle as Cody tried to fling it. "No throwing," he cautioned his son.
Cody babbled, wanting to play this new game.
"No," Jim said firmly, and removed the bottle.
Cody screamed, causing his father to wince. Jim rose, grabbing a small toy bear from the collection and handed it to his son. Cody settled, fascinated with the feel of the plush toy. Jim stuck the bottle back in Cody's mouth, and Cody sucked automatically, one hand still playing with the toy.
"You still haven't answered my question," Blair noted mildly, crossing his arms.
"Cody's my responsibility," Jim replied. "Told you that yesterday. Simon shouldn't have yelled at you."
"Damn it, Jim, I told you when you brought Cody home it was both of us, not just you!" Blair exploded, slamming the counter with the palm of his hand. Ignoring the sting, Blair got up to pace angrily.
Jim looked at him for a long moment, his face reflecting genuine bafflement, then turned back to Cody to make sure he finished the bottle. Once Cody was finished, Jim busied himself with cleanup, wiping off his son's mouth, then rising to deal with the spoon, empty jar, and bottle.
Cody flung the teddy bear. Surprised when it wasn't automatically returned, Cody became agitated, rocking in his chair.
Unsure what to do, Blair looked to Jim, who was busy rinsing out the bottle. "Aren't you going to do something about that?"
"You think I have all the answers?" Jim shot back incredulously.
Taken aback, Blair froze momentarily. "He's your son."
"So you keep reminding me." Disgusted, Jim stuck the bottle on the drain rack, wiped his hands, and moved to retrieve the bear. Giving it back to Cody, who immediately flung it again, Jim stared at where it had fallen before saying, "Don't worry. I won't burden you with him."
"And what if I said I wanted you to?"
Jim studied him, disbelief etched on his face. Then he turned away to remove Cody from the high chair and redeposit him in his play area.
"Look, I'm an idiot. I thought that if I let you make the decisions concerning Cody, you wouldn't hate me for making the wrong ones," Blair said quickly. "What the hell do I know about paying for childcare? Or dealing with the kind of money involved with a trust fund? After those first few weeks when you had your hands full trying to learn from everything and anything I could dig up — you had Cody under control like you'd been a dad forever. You stepped up, man, and you make me feel like you don't need my help for anything. Then your dad treats me like I'm your wife and I'm — I'm — "
"Breathe," Jim admonished, hugging him gently. "Quit panicking. You're so good at acting like there's nothing wrong, I sometimes forget you hide how you're really feeling better than I can. I didn't mean to make you feel like you're not needed. Do you think I'd take on raising Cody if I didn't trust you'd be there?"
"That's just it, Jim — I thought you were telling me you didn't trust me with him," Blair argued. "You didn't want me staying home with him, but you'd hire strangers instead. What the hell was I supposed to think? Then after you hired Ann, you didn't get me up to take a turn at taking care of Cody like you did those first few weeks he was home, and — "
"Because you kept pushing back every time I asked you for help," Jim replied, his frustration seeping through. "You kept making it clear you thought that all that sort of responsibility was mine alone." He shook his head tiredly.
Willing his breathing to calm, Blair let the warm embrace comfort him. "I've never seen you look so scared or so determined as you did the day you brought Cody home," he admitted quietly. "So what if you had a son? I loved you, you loved me, it was going to be okay. But then you started asking me questions, and I screwed up so much for you, I didn't want to fuck up your son, too."
Jim asked wryly, "You think I don't wonder if I'm scarring him for life, raising him? Especially after Ann said she'd expected Cody to grow out of his sensitivities?"
"They'll level out eventually," Blair assured him. "Just like yours did." He paused. "You're scared that Cody's going to hate you someday for inheriting your senses. You think he's going to assume that means he'll be gay, too."
"What if he is?"
"Well, if he asks for a pink tutu as his Halloween costume…" Blair ignored the glare Jim gave him. "Look, I'm sorry for making you think I didn't want to help raise Cody. I do. I love you both. I just — " Blair broke off, catching Cody as he crawled over to where they stood.
"Up!" Cody exclaimed.
Automatically, Blair picked him up. Smiling, Cody presented a stuffed toy to Blair, nearly smashing it against Blair's face. Blair managed to extract it from Cody, noting as he did that it was a wolf.
"Woo!" Cody announced, satisfied. Pleased with himself, he tucked himself against Blair's chest, clearly listening to his heartbeat as he fell asleep.
Jim eyed them, amusement dancing in his eyes. "You just, what?"
"Thought Cody might not want his father's lover hanging around all the time," Blair said sheepishly.
Jim pursed his lips. "Yeah, I can see where he's hating that," he deadpanned.
Ruefully, Blair noted, "He's got a death grip on my shirt."
Jim nodded, clearly enjoying the moment. "Yup."
"If I move him, he's going to be unhappy," Blair stated.
"You're enjoying this too much," Blair accused Jim.
Jim shook his head, then retrieved a baby sling from near the door. Quickly, he strapped Cody in, freeing Blair's arms. "Now I am," he said. "Walk with me down to Teriyaki Joe's?"
"I thought you said you weren't hungry."
"That was before I knew you'd take care of Cody while I ate," Jim said.
Blair glared at him. Muffling a chuckle, Jim kissed him gently, reassuring Blair without words that Jim forgave him. Grabbing Blair's coat, he helped Blair into it, careful not to jostle Cody too much, then put on his own coat.
"It's that easy?" Blair asked incredulously. "I just pitch in?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "You were doing that much for weeks before you talked to my dad," he pointed out. "Then my dad shows up and suddenly you start doubting yourself, pulling back. You've never been afraid to tell me what I should do, or speak your mind, or volunteer information. Hell, you were the one who assured me we could do this, remember?"
"Yeah, but that was — "
"Blair, I love you, but shut up before you work yourself into a panic again," Jim commanded. "Now, are you planning on walking out on me and Cody?"
"No. Naomi thought I'd want to go with her and I said no."
"You're the one who said we pick our role models; that we had to find father figures that mattered for our sense of selves." At Blair's look of surprise, Jim added, "You were talking to Daryl a few years ago. You were encouraging Daryl to think about what he saw as important in his definition of what a guy's supposed to be. You said I found strong, respectable, tough men to emulate, men who treated people with respect and compassion. You found similar people. So what's different about being that guy for Cody?"
"Because he's your son." Blair took a deep breath. "Because you've never said exactly how you want him to be raised and I'm flying blind."
Jim looked surprised at that statement. "You honestly think I know what I'm doing there?"
"No, but if we don't talk about it, then neither of us knows and I'm sorry, but I can't keep guessing, not when we've already figured out what that me stepping back and letting you handle it isn't what either of us wants," Blair said urgently. "Clearly, it's not what Cody wants either. You know how fucked up we get when we don’t talk to each other."
Jim sighed, agreeing. "Okay, so while we have dinner, we'll talk. But that's not the only thing that's making you run."
Blair shook his head, wondering how he'd ever thought he could hide anything from Jim. "No, it's not," he said, shifting Cody's weight slightly. "I really don't want to screw this up."
"Why not?" Jim pressed, sounding slightly impatient.
"Because Cody's not only your son, but he's a Sentinel. Because this time I'm not just your Guide, but his until he finds one. And —"
Blair met Jim's eyes, serious. "And I don't know how I know, but he won't find her for a very long time."
Jim smiled crookedly. "He's an Ellison. We don't break easily, in case you haven't noticed." Grinning widely, "Besides, he likes you. My luck, he'll decide he wants to be more like you than me."
"Hey, I thought you loved me for that," Blair objected.
Jim quickly reassured him with a kiss. "I do," he said. "But if he wants that pink tutu, you're doing the shopping, not me. And you're going to do the explaining to my dad and Steven, not me."
"Wanna bet?" Blair challenged as they walked out the door.
"Nope," Jim replied with a grin. "That'll make it happen for sure."
Laughing, Blair leaned in to kiss him.
Comments welcome at my DW journal or on AO3.