Unexpected Delivery (Love's a Surprise Slash Remix) by Raine Wynd

Unexpected Delivery (Love’s a Surprise Slash Remix) - Raine Wynd

The incessant beeping of the garbage truck was better than an alarm clock. Three stories up, and the sound still echoed in the alley behind the building that housed the loft. It had amused Blair to discover that Jim didn't wake instantly when the garbage trucks came, but would wake if they weren't within same fifteen-minute window. He'd driven Jim crazy figuring out what constituted "normal situational awareness" for a Sentinel in his home territory.

Now awake thanks to the beeping, Blair wallowed in bed for a moment. Suddenly, he remembered he hadn't emptied the trash or taken the recycling downstairs to the massive bin shared by the residents of the building. The panic drove him to get dressed and double-check.

Relieved to discover that Jim had apparently taken care of it, Blair relaxed. Jim had headed to Spokane to follow up on a case and wouldn't be back until later that day. Blair had to work, but he had plans.

Jim would be tired from his trip, and probably more than a little frustrated. They had the next four days off, and ordinarily, they'd use it to escape the city, recharge the Sentinel/Guide batteries with some time spent at a lakeside cabin in the woods. This time, though, Blair didn't want it to go completely to fishing and communing with nature.

No, Blair was planning a seduction. A little wine, a massage, a good dinner… and with any luck, Blair wouldn't need a sleeping bag all weekend. If he was especially fortunate, they wouldn't leave the loft at all.

Whistling, Blair got ready for work.

*****

Walking into the loft with a canvas bag full of healthcare from the natural food store, the chorus of a particularly catchy song he'd heard on the radio stuck on auto-loop in his brain and pleasantly crowding out the evidence photos he'd seen that day, Blair didn't immediately notice the scene in the living room. He went through the routine of putting away what he'd purchased, storing the canvas bag in its place under the sink, hanging up his jacket, taking off his shoes, and grabbed a bottle of ginger ale from the fridge. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was nearly time for the TV program he'd wanted to watch to begin, and headed for his favorite spot to watch it. He had just enough time to watch it before beginning his preparations for the seduction scene.

Halfway there, Blair froze as his eyes registered the sight of his best friend holding a sleeping baby wrapped in what looked like an old sweatshirt. As far as Blair knew, Jim wasn't dating anyone; hadn't dated anyone in months. So whose baby was this? No one they knew had been expecting children.

"Sit down before you fall over with curiosity," Jim ordered, sounding resigned.

Deliberately, Blair chose a seat next to his friend, wanting to be closer. "So?" he prompted, not liking the way Jim sounded or the tired way Jim looked. Tired, Blair could understand, since Jim had been due back from his trip to Spokane, a five-hour trip by car. "Whose baby is this?"

"He's mine," Jim admitted.

"What? You wouldn't abandon --"

"I wouldn't, but Kate didn't tell me she was pregnant." Jim laughed without humor. "Not surprising, since she was a one night stand. Well, technically, two nights and three days, but who's counting?"

Blair stared at his friend. Women were rare enough in Jim's life that Blair could recall just who had been involved with Jim; living and working together as he and Jim did meant they were privy to more details of each other's lives than most best friends. 'Kate' was not a name that rang any bells. "Kate?"

"Kate Taylor," Jim said, as if that explained everything.

That still wasn't anyone Blair knew. Too well aware that that man he loved tended to be close-mouthed when Blair most wanted answers, Blair doggedly pressed on. "So when did you meet Kate? Or should I ask where?"

"That four-day training convention in Spokane last year Simon insisted I attend," Jim said. "I went down to meet with a few of the guys, but as soon as I saw her, she was all I could see, all I could think of. She smelled so wonderful, and she was sitting alone at the bar. Had a hell of a shiner on her collarbone, and she looked just too fragile, too elegant to have that kind of bruise." Jim's voice roughened with memory. "Turned out she's a member of the local fencing club and got bruised in practice."

Oh, geez, Blair thought. Vulnerability mixed with strength was a huge pull for both of them; a fact Blair hadn't been cognizant of until a random comment from Jim had made Blair reevaluate his relationships with women. Throw in a Sentinel who was out of his element, away from the familiar, and the pull to find something familiar -- even if it had all been a response to pheromones -- had to have been difficult to resist. Jim wasn't a saint, and given the same temptation, Blair couldn't blame him for giving in. Hell, as heavily populated as Blair's own sex life had been at times, Blair knew he'd been incredibly lucky not to father anyone.

"You were careful, right?"

For the first time since Blair had walked in, Jim's smile held a touch of familiar irritation. "I was thanking your foresight in packing condoms. Though the lube was unnecessary."

Blair grinned, remembering how he'd managed to slip both items into Jim's suitcase at the last minute, on the pretext of double-checking that Jim had packed a set of Sentinel-safe sheets. "Hey, I figured if you didn't get lucky, a little lube couldn't hurt."

Jim rolled his eyes. "As if I didn't already have enough in the 'too much information about your sexual habits' file, Sandburg," he growled.

The familiar growl reassured Blair that Jim hadn't changed, just the situation, and that Jim was dealing the best way he knew how. "Oh, as if the reverse wasn't true," Blair shot back. "And the reason Kate didn't call to let you know she was pregnant sooner was?"

"She probably thought she could handle raising our son by herself." Jim let go of the breath he'd been holding, clearly remembering. "She was so beautiful, so strong. She was a computer engineer." Jim's grip tightened slightly on his son. "I should've called her. Didn't think she'd want to give up her job or her hobby to move."

Blair suspected that wasn't the only reason, but he let it slide for the moment. "What did she look like?"

In reply, Jim reached for a photograph on the coffee table and handed it to Blair. The photographer had captured a woman with long black hair, green eyes, a pert nose and a dimpled smile. She had the elegant bone structure, curvaceous figure, and coloring of someone whose Welsh heritage had prevailed. She wore a tie-dyed V-neck top, a denim skirt, and high heels as she posed in mid-lunge with a fencer's foil in her left hand, her gaze directed over her right shoulder as she grinned mischievously at the photographer.

Blair whistled appreciatively. Jim's taste in women had always run towards strikingly beautiful; Kate certainly fit the profile. For a moment, Blair realized how close he'd come to not having a shot at Jim. If he'd known Jim had met someone at that conference, he would've been pushing Jim to stay in contact, regardless of the distance -- and if they'd known about Jim's son sooner… Blair shut his mind to that depressing thought and concentrated on the here and now.

"Damn, Jim. She's beautiful, and that's a hell of pic."

"It's a publicity shot for the fencing club she belonged to," Jim said quietly. "They were the focus of a local interest story in the paper three months ago. It was in the file the social worker gave me; said she'd asked for a recent photograph of Kate and that was the only one anyone who knew her could give."

"How did she die?" Blair prompted.

Jim sighed, looking resigned and sad. "She was killed in a car accident six weeks ago. It took Child Services that long to track me down -- if she hadn't listed me as Cody's father on his birth certificate, I might've never have known." Jim looked down at his sleeping son. "I was planning on calling her when I got back. I just…."

"Didn't think she was more than just a case of really bad pheromones?" Blair finished knowingly. "And you'd given her your card, and figured if it wasn't, she'd call?"

Jim stared at him. "I don't know whether to be scared you know me that well or not," he finally said. When the baby started to fuss, waking up, Jim soothed him. "It's okay, world's pretty noisy and smelly, isn't it, Cody?" To Blair, Jim said, "Would you mind holding him?"

"I can't believe you're so calm," Blair remarked as he took the child, who wore little more than a diaper. The sweatshirt that was wrapped around him was faded and worn, and Blair hastily wrapped it more securely around the child. From the size and age of the sweatshirt, Blair guessed it was one of Jim's. Instantly, Cody stopped fussing, his blue eyes wide as he tried to absorb this new experience, his tiny nostrils flaring as he inhaled. "Oh, you're a curious one, aren't you?"

"Yeah, well, I've had more time to absorb that I'm a father," Jim acknowledged.

"So why the hell didn't you tell me sooner?"

Jim shrugged as he rose and went to the kitchen. "Wanted to get Cody calmed down first, see if my hunch was correct."

"And that hunch would be?" Still holding the baby, Blair trailed Jim into the kitchen. From a bag Blair hadn't noticed previously, Jim pulled out a baby bottle and a can of formula.

"Social worker said for a baby, he's pretty damn sensitive," Jim told him in a voice Blair recognized as his 'cop reporting the facts' tone. "Said he's been classified as a 'special needs' baby because among the records they found for him, he's got a list of allergies a mile long already."

Never slow on the uptake, Blair felt a rock drop into the pit of his stomach. "No wonder you're so calm. You've already accepted Cody's yours -- you knew right from the moment you sensed him, right?" At Jim's nod, Blair suddenly understood why Jim wasn't exactly jumping up and down with joy. "Sensitive? How sensitive?"

"I turned on the white noise generators and he stopped crying. His skin was red from the clothes they had him in; I'm amazed he's tolerating the plastic in his diaper."

Blair groaned. "Did you even check?"

Jim shot him a glare. "No, I'm letting my son suffer. Think I'll teach him how to be an Ellison early, what the fuck do you think?"

"I think you've had a hell of a shock," Blair returned evenly, oddly relieved by Jim's display of temper. "Did you dream of this?"

Jim snorted. "Just like I told you before I left -- the panther showing up, looking worried, but not helping any."

Blair sighed, remembering that conversation. Jim had been adamant that Blair stayed in Cascade with such a vague vision. "Guess we know now why."

Nodding, Jim continued, "I just thought I was going to Spokane to follow up on a case I had a while back -- I didn't think I'd come home with my son. Don't you think if I'd known, I'd have gone looking for Kate sooner?" Opening the can of formula, Jim sniffed it and promptly poured it into the sink, his face reflecting his instant distaste. "And if you have any better ideas for feeding my son than that crap, I'd love to hear them."

"None at the moment," Blair said honestly, "but how about we start with 'not that brand' and go from there? We need to do some shopping anyway; Trader Joe's was out of some of the stuff I had on my list. Do you have anything more than what's in that bag?" He handed Cody back to his father and peered into the bag, seeing a can of formula and an official-looking folder, which Blair quickly flipped through. The folder contained Cody's birth certificate, indicating he'd been born almost five months prior, along with a brief medical history detailing Cody's apparently numerous allergic reactions. Also included was an equally officious report from Child Services placing one Cody Michael Ellison with his father due to the death of his mother, Kathryn Taylor. The last item in the folder was an pamphlet on how to change a diaper, written, Blair noted, for a grade-school audience in English, Spanish, and Chinese. There was also a list of recommended items for a new baby.

Noting Blair's perusal of the bag and the folder, Jim said, "That's all they gave me. I figured you could help me. I just--" His calm resolve cracked a bit as Cody began to fuss a little more. "I never wanted this, Sandburg. Not once. Carolyn wanted kids, but I kept putting her off, and I never could tell her that I was afraid our kids would be just like me -- freaks. I just didn't know why, back then. Not until you gave a name to what I am."

Blair closed the distance between them, wanting to touch and reassure, but aware it wouldn't be accepted. "I know, Jim," he said gently, ignoring the freak comment in favor of focusing on the issue at hand. It was a measure of how distressed Jim was, Blair knew; Jim had largely accepted his Sentinel abilities. "Do you want to give Cody up?"

Anguished eyes met Blair's gaze. "To people who don't understand what a Sentinel is? How the hell do I put that in the paperwork? Oh, sorry, but your father knew what you're capable of, all the things you're likely to be allergic to, but he didn't want to deal?" Jim snorted, and Blair knew Jim was remembering how his own father hadn't wanted to deal. "Or, better, that he'll sense stuff better than anyone else, see mystic crap, and no one will believe him until he stumbles across his Guide? What if he never gets that lucky? I can't do that. He's mine, Sandburg. My son." Jim's voice rose and Cody began to whimper.

"I know," Blair said in his best Guide voice, reaching out to touch Jim and Cody, soothing both father and son. "I had to ask, play devil's advocate. You know that. Does Simon know yet?"

Jim shook his head. "Not yet. He's not expecting me back until Wednesday." Abruptly, the tight rein Jim kept on his emotions cracked. "That's a good thing, right?"

"Maybe," Blair conceded, his heart aching for his friend, who looked suddenly so helpless. Jim had faced countless dangerous situations, but nothing in his life had prepared him for this, unless he'd learned something from the Chopec that he hadn't told Blair. Somehow, Blair doubted it; even if he had, the way the Chopec raised children probably didn't translate all that well to Cascade.

"We should let Simon know -- he did raise Daryl, you know. You should've called me as soon as you knew; I could've gotten --"

"In trouble for dropping everything for me, again," Jim countered sharply, reminding him that while Blair was now a paid consultant to the PD, he had very little leeway for absences, a penalty for forcing a compromise between going to the Academy and remaining true to himself. "Besides, you left your phone on the charger, and getting a hold of you inside the station's chaos even when we're both there because you don't sit down long and everyone wants your input on their cases." Jim held up a free hand, forestalling the argument. "Look, you know now. You don't have to do--"

"Don't even go there, Ellison," Blair snapped. "For the record, I'm volunteering to help with your son. If it means we figure out a way to live together some place else, we'll do it -- but you're not kicking me out. You got that?"

"I just --"

"No," Blair said flatly. "I'm your Guide, and until Cody's shows up or we figure out who it is, then I'm his Guide, too. You're my best friend and I love you. My heart's already halfway there with your son. I'd do this anyway. Give, Jim. You're not winning this argument."

For a long, wordless moment, Jim looked like his emotions were going to overwhelm him. Then he took a deep breath, gratitude in his eyes. "Let's get going before Cody decides he's hungry enough to scream. That's the third time I've had to dump a can of formula since we left Spokane, and I don't want him to go hungry."

"You have an idea of where we're going?" Blair asked as he moved with Jim towards the door, taking Cody while Jim shrugged into a jacket and put on shoes, then handing the child back to his father so Blair could put on his own coat and shoes.

Jim grinned. "Yeah, I do, Darwin. It's called the grocery store."

"Hang on a second," Blair said, suddenly inspired. "Let me look up how we can rig up a sling to keep Cody safe, since we don't have a car seat."

"Good idea," Jim agreed as Blair quickly went into his room and looked up the information on the Internet. Memorizing the directions, he returned and proceeded to instruct Jim on how to rig up a baby sling from the sweatshirt.

"Okay, so that takes care of that," Blair pronounced. "So where is he going to sleep?"

"Food and diapers first, and whatever else we need related to that," Jim countered as they stepped out into the hallway and Blair locked the door. "We'll get all the baby furniture and clothes later."

Mentally, Blair shrugged and gave in; it did no good to argue. If Jim had managed this long without his help, then he'd clearly had time to plan what he was going to do when Blair got home. "Mind telling me what our mission is after food?"

"Yeah, finding a car seat. As good as this sling is, it's not legal. I had him tucked in my jacket on the way here; the social worker wasn't inclined to give up the car seat she had. She was in a hurry and I didn't feel like asking for directions to the nearest Target or Fred Meyer." Jim grimaced. "Which means you're driving." He handed over the keys to his truck.

Blair did a mini-victory dance; Jim hated the way Blair drove, but the truck had the advantage of no passenger seat airbag. Without asking, Blair knew Jim wasn't going to let go of Cody again until said car seat was obtained.

"And after that?" For once, the elevator was working, and delivered them to the ground floor in record time.

"Driving you crazy not knowing whether we're going to get any baby furniture," Jim replied, just this shade of annoyed, and Blair felt a smile twitch the corners of his face. "But I have a list of things I want to get from Fred Meyer while we're there, based on what the social worker gave me and what she told me. Maybe we should do that first; that way, we can get the car seat and not have to worry about Cody being strapped to me like this. Probably ought to get baby furniture there if they have it, too." He sighed, sounding genuinely contrite in a way Blair had rarely seen Jim be. "I'm sorry, Blair. I know you had other plans tonight."

Blair looked at him, startled but somehow not entirely surprised he'd been discovered. "Nothing that can't wait," he said softly, meeting Jim's eyes. "And how did you know?"

Jim smiled. "You, uh, left out your shopping list on the kitchen table this morning. Next to 'lube', you'd put my initials and a question mark -- and I figured out you really didn't want to go camping this weekend."

"Damn," Blair said regretfully. "I thought I was being subtle."

Jim gave him an incredulous look. "Sandburg, I live with you. You'd have to go really out of your way for me not to notice you falling for me. I've been picking up on your pheromones for a while now; I know you've stopped dating other people. I just figured you'd let me know when you were ready."

Blair's eyes widened. "Why?" he demanded, suddenly irritated.

"Didn't want to fuck up another relationship by being too demanding."

Blair had an uncomfortable flash of hearing that line said by Carolyn in the heat of anger, and wanted to slap her for leaving a permanent scar on Jim's heart. "How many times do I have to tell you, you need to talk to me?" Blair asked, venting his irritation the best way he knew how.

Jim grinned. "Probably a lot more before we're through," he said honestly. "You sure you want to take me on? It's not just me anymore." He indicated Cody.

"As if I'd run," Blair scoffed. "What kind of guy do you think I am?"

Letting out a sigh of relief, Jim said, "The kind of guy who hasn't kissed me yet." Then, not waiting for Blair's reply, Jim kissed him, mindful of Cody between them. It wasn't enough, yet full of enough passion that Blair felt the promise.

"More of that later," Jim said huskily, drawing back.

It was going to be a long afternoon. Jim was going snipe at Blair because he couldn't get mad at his son for being born; Blair was going to counter by offering up all the alternative healthcare he knew. By the time they went to sleep, they'd work out a compromise; Blair was sure of it. They'd survived far worse surprises and come out intact; they'd get through this one somehow.

*****

"Steven! What are you doing here?" Jim asked two hours later, surprised to see his brother in the all-natural grocery store. "I thought you were working today."

"Had to go in for a few hours, but I'm done now. As to why I'm here…" The younger Ellison grinned sheepishly and pointed to the display of snack bars. "My secretary got me hooked on these, and Granola's is the only place that carries them. Figured I'd pick up some and then see if you were free, since I was on this side of town anyway." He paused, eyeing the bundle strapped to Jim. "Emergency babysitting, bro?"

"In a manner of speaking," Jim said, abruptly grateful he now considered his younger brother to be a friend. "This is Cody, my son. His mother died and left him to me."

Steven blinked, but recovered quickly. "You didn't know?" At Jim's headshake, Steven rolled his eyes. "That's cold. Sheez. You're not that much of an asshole."

"No?" Relief swept through Jim at his brother's words.

Steven grinned. "Which isn't to say that you aren't intimidating as hell when you want to be, or that you can't be an asshole. Cody, you said? He's sleeping pretty soundly there."

"Yeah," Jim said. "Now that I've gotten him, he's calmed down a lot. He was screaming when the social worker gave him to me. I think he likes the smell of this place for the same reason I do -- no annoying incense."

Steven smiled, shaking his head. "You need anything?"

"Babysitting help?" Jim suggested, as Blair appeared, pushing a cart full of groceries.

"Hey, Steven," Blair greeted.

"That's a given, bro, and Blair, you just let me know if you need a break from taking care of my nephew, okay? Tell you what. Do you guys have plans for dinner?" At their negative responses, he asked. "How long have you had Cody?"

"I drove home with him this morning," Jim told his brother. "We've been running around town trying to get stuff for him."

"Okay, so you'll need help assembling the furniture and moving stuff," Steven deduced. "It's nearly seven now. I can go pick up some takeout and meet you at your place."

Jim studied his younger sibling a moment, aware that Steven was friendlier with their father than he was. "Why don't you just follow us back? We can order a pizza."

"Afraid I might call someone else?" Steven challenged, one eyebrow raised.

"As if I don't know your favorite meal in the world when you're stressed is Sally's Chinese dumplings?" Jim retorted.

Steven had the grace to look sheepish. "It's yours too, you know."

"Yeah, well, Blair got the recipe from her, and I like his better," Jim informed him. "And you know how good Sally is at figuring out what's wrong."

"She won't tell Dad," Steven argued.

"This is too big to keep quiet about. Remember what happened with the girl you thought you got pregnant?" Jim challenged.

Steven's eyes flashed at the reminder. "Sally said she was sorry." He took a deep breath, then added, "Dad's going to be pissed when he does find out, you know."

"Yeah, well, won't be the first time I've disappointed him. I won't have him making Cody believe he's a freak, too."

Steven stared at his older brother, and Jim could almost feel the conclusions Steven was drawing from his statement. Jim wasn't worried; the incident at the racetrack had cemented Steven's opinion of Jim's abilities. As far as Steven was concerned, Jim wasn't a freak, but a hero.

Ignoring the scrutiny, Jim turned to Blair. "You got everything, Chief?"

Blair surveyed the cart. "I think so. Cloth diapers, over pants, phosphate-free and dishwasher-safe baby bottles, latex nipples, hypoallergenic formula, thin cotton towels, stuff for food we can fix easily, baby shampoo, baby soap, and a couple of things I couldn't get at Trader Joe's. Oh, and a couple of jars of baby food – one of the mothers in the aisle suggested Cody's old enough that we could start him on solid food."

"Cloth diapers, Jim? Disposable would be easier, I'd think," Steven commented.

"You ever look at a plastic diaper?" Jim asked.

"Not up close, no," Steven admitted. "This your influence, Blair? Save the planet, dump less plastics?"

"Not quite," Blair said honestly. "Jim has some chemical sensitivities, and it's looking like Cody might have them, too. But saving the environment from more dirty diapers sounds good to me."

"Bet you change your mind in two weeks," Steven dared.

"Bet you lose," Jim shot back. "Fifty bucks."

"I'll do better -- if I'm wrong, I'll pay for the diaper service for six months."

"Done," Jim said instantly.

Amused, Blair said, "All right, you two. Let's get going before the little guy here wakes up."

Twenty minutes later, they were back at the loft. Steven parked his luxury sedan in the space next to the truck and immediately assumed the job of packhorse, saying that Jim had his hands full with Cody, who'd chosen that moment to express his extreme displeasure at being hungry.

Thinking quickly, Blair dug through the bags to find the tin of formula and a bottle set. "Go on up," he urged Jim. "We'll be right behind you."

Gratefully, Jim took the can and headed into the loft. Almost immediately, Cody calmed down somewhat, still fussing. "Working on it, son," Jim told him, grateful for clear instructions that indicated the formula didn't need heating and the baby bottle set could be quickly sterilized. Within ten minutes, he had the bottle full of formula and in his son's mouth. To Jim's relief, Cody took the bottle readily, and after a taste, began steadily drinking the formula.

Hearing Steven and Blair bring in the bags, Jim looked up from his task. "I think we have a winner," he told them.

"Whohoo!" Blair did a mini-victory dance, managing not to knock anything over or spill anything out of the bags he carried. "Granola's for the win!"

Jim and Steven laughed. "Come on, champ, we've got the crib and the stroller to go," Steven reminded him.

Soon, the truck was unloaded, the pizza ordered and devoured, the living room furniture shoved aside, and the crib was in pieces on the floor.

"Who wrote these instructions?" Steven complained, trying to match up the piece of fastener he was holding with the diagram.

"Someone with far less education than any of us, obviously," Blair said. "Hand them over and let me see if they make any better sense with the French set."

Jim shook his head. "Here, Chief, you take Cody for a while," he said, trading the child for the headboard and Phillips screwdriver Blair held. "I thought you knew Spanish?"

"I do, but this was written by someone who must've spoken Korean," Blair complained. "Are you sure we're missing the English set?"

"I'll check the box again," Jim said. "Good thing I didn't take the box down to recycling yet." Setting the headboard and screwdriver down, he moved to check the box. Flipping it over, he turned it so that anything inside of it would fall out. Shaking it hard, he heard a distinctive thunk, reached carefully inside, and extricated a plastic bag full of parts. "I think I found our missing size 'B' bolts."

"Woo hoo!" Blair exclaimed as Jim began tearing the box apart. "Whoa, wait, we might need that to return --"

Jim carefully turned the box inside out, revealing the missing set of instructions.

Blair and Steven stared at him. "That…that's just ridiculous," Steven sputtered.

"Yeah, but now we know what 'enormous category 1' means," Blair pointed out. Rising, he gave in to the impulse, and kissed Jim.

Desire ignited in that simple kiss, and if it wasn't for Steven's, "Geez, can't you guys wait until we get the kid in this thing and I'm not here before you start anything?"

Jim pulled back, surprised by his brother.

Steven met his shocked look, and shook his head. "I'm not Dad," he pointed out, "Hell, the first time I met you, Blair, I thought you were Jim's boyfriend. Couldn't figure out why you were so involved with the case." He shrugged elegantly. "Didn't think either of you needed a clue bat, and if he made you happy, Jimmy, who was I to say anything? You'd have told me to shove it if I didn't like it, and I wasn't about to lose you again over something stupid. I made that mistake when you came back from Peru and I've learned my lesson." Now the younger Ellison grinned. "Of course, if I'd known you'd needed a clue-by-four, I'd have hit you with it sooner."

Blair rolled his eyes and, sensing the moment was over, moved to cant the box side so it was readable. "Can I just be glad you didn't?" he asked. "You have no idea how long it's taken me to get this far."

"I might," Steven countered, meeting Jim's gaze. "Sometimes we need the evidence beat into us before we trust it's true."

"Speak for yourself," Jim half-kidded. "And Chief?"

"Yeah?"

"Cody's diaper needs changing. I did the last three. Your turn," he said wickedly.

Shaking his head, Blair rose. "Just this once, I'm going to let you get by with that," he warned. "Where'd we put that bag of diapers?"

"By the bathroom door. You'll want to lay him on the floor so he doesn't roll."

Nodding, Blair accepted the advice. A few minutes later, he was heard to mutter, "I know what we fed you, Cody, but you are one disgusting little boy. Eww. Man, I wish I could dial this smell down." Louder, he called out, "Any objection to me giving this boy a bath? I used to help my aunts with my cousins when they were little."

"Go for it," Jim called back, grateful Blair knew what he was doing. "We'll handle this."

****

"All right, we have a crib!" Steven pronounced an hour and half later. "Where do you want this?"

"I could fold up my futon and put it there," Blair said. "He should be okay, especially since we did that renovation last year and removed the extra fire doors."

"No," Jim protested, holding a clean and freshly diapered Cody. "Be easier to move my desk."

Steven shook his head. "No, trust me, you'll want him to be in his own room."

"How do you know?" Blair wondered.

"Because I dated a single mother once," Steven replied. "Nothing kills a mood faster than a kid in the same room."

"Right," Blair said quickly.

Jim shot him a look. "What makes me think you were that mood killer once, Chief?"

Blair flushed. "I wouldn't know anything about that. I'll get the futon cleared and ready."

Jim chuckled. "Let us know when you're done."

Steven shook his head again. "You found quite a guy, bro," he said easily. "All the same, I'd present Dad with Cody, first."

Jim sighed. "Only to have him pressure me to hire a nanny, berate me to quit the job I love, and hear him slur the man I can't live without? Or tell me my son's too sensitive and he ought to toughen up because it's a cold, harsh world out there? You know how he is, Stevie."

"Yeah, well, he's a proud, stubborn old man. But you'd be surprised what he's willing to accept if it means he has you in his life."

"I've tried. Invited him to dinner, tried to meet him for golf, hell -- invited him to spend some time with me without Blair and it always winds up being the worst night of my life."

"Always is," Steven agreed, surprising Jim. "I hate them too, but I don't want to hold a grudge the rest of my life. I can't afford the therapy anymore; I don't have that kind of health insurance."

Jim chuckled. "Me neither."

"Besides," Steven pointed out, "Dad's unbent a bit lately. Sally got mad at him and threatened to leave if he didn't quit shoving us so hard. Said he was being an old, cantankerous fool for not being happy that his children were happy and successful."

Jim's eyes widened. "She said that?"

Steven chuckled. "Yeah. Thought I was going to have to call an ambulance; Dad was so shocked. She stormed out and left. Way I hear it, Dad had to apologize on his knees."

"Oh, boy. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks," Jim mused. "Still --"

Steven shrugged. "Yeah, I know. First words out of Dad's mouth are gonna be --"

"'Didn't I teach you to use a condom, boy?'" the two brothers chorused.

Chuckling, Jim called, "Hey, Sandburg, the faster you unbury that futon and fold it up, the faster we get to the rest of your plans for this evening."

"Call me Sandburg one more time tonight and we'll see how soon you get laid," came the reply, audible only to Sentinel ears. "Damn thing's stuck in the down position."

Jim smothered a laugh. "Come on, Steven, let's go help Blair move the futon out."

It was a tight squeeze with the three of them in the small room, but they managed to swap the futon for the crib. Once out in the living room, Blair discovered that there was a hex bolt holding the futon in place, and the unit was folded. Fortunately, Jim had thought ahead and taped a hex key to the underside of the joint. That task accomplished, the living room furniture was rearranged to accommodate the futon. Cody was laid in his new crib, amongst the same kind of organic cotton sheets his father loved, and fell asleep quickly.

Taking the cue, Steven rose to leave. "Congrats, bro," he told Jim sincerely, pulling him into a manly hug. "On both accounts." He winked at Blair, then walked out, pulling the door shut behind himself.

"Every time I think I know that guy, he surprises me," Jim murmured as the exhaustion of the day finally started to kick in.

"Yeah, well, I could say the same of you," Blair replied. "I had this whole night planned out. A good wine, some of that tomato and orzo pasta you like, and--"

Jim kissed him softly, interrupting Blair's litany. "No plan survives first contact," he reminded him. "Besides, there's always tomorrow. Conserve water, shower with a friend?"

Blair chuckled, relishing the sweet feel of desire, warm and tender. "I thought that was my line."

Jim smiled wryly. "I want to see you naked, but part of me is going to be listening for Cody. Don't know how much more I can do," Jim warned Blair. "Much as I want to."

Blair met his worried gaze. "I won't let us die of blue balls, and you're not going to be a bad father for wanting me," he promised. "I'm tired, too, Jim. It's been a rollercoaster of a day. Tell you what. I'll grab what I usually wear to bed and then we won't be so tempted."

"Won't matter anyway, not with you in the shower and then next to me," Jim predicted, "but we'll pretend like we can. You like your showers hot, right?"

"Whatever temp you like as long as it's not freezing," Blair countered. "Be there in a minute," He brushed his lips against Jim's in a promise.

True to his word, by the time Jim had undressed and stepped into the shower, Blair was back. He'd grabbed a pair of boxers and a tank top, and laid them on the counter, but he'd taken the time to undress, undoubtedly tossing his clothes somewhere in his old room.

Seeing him step into the bathroom, Jim suddenly felt as though the room was too small. He forced himself to take a breath, to remember to pull the switch for the spray. Passion warred with exhaustion and practicality; and a lifetime of habit of choosing practicality over passion won…barely.

Still, Jim took the opportunity to admire his lover freely. When Blair reached for the soap, Jim took it from him and began to soap up Blair's body, learning its curves and planes. He relished the way this helped him learn the nuances he'd missed; in patching Blair up over the years he'd learned only pieces of the whole, and never with this much freedom to touch, to excite and stroke. Still, he held himself back, aware that he didn't want to go too far and start something he couldn't finish.

As if sensing his mood, Blair took the handheld shower from him and began to rinse off. "Soap?" he asked. When he took the bar from Jim, he kissed him, keeping the kiss short and sweet. "Relax. I won't break and -- as much as I might wish you were my first guy, you aren't. Given what Steven mentioned, I don't think I'm your first either. Am I?"

"No," Jim admitted. "Been a long while, though. Before I became a cop, to be exact."

Blair nodded, clearly not surprised. "Figured it was something like that. Bend down a little; I can't reach your shoulders. Was that why you didn't push me?"

"Some," Jim admitted, then chuckled wryly. "Figured I'd tell you this weekend, when we were out camping."

"And if I hadn't been willing?" Blair asked meditatively, soaping up Jim's chest.

Jim glared at him. "I don't seduce the unwilling. After everything we've been through, do you think I'd be willing to risk our friendship if I wasn't sure?"

"Easy, big guy. I'm just--"

"--borrowing trouble," Jim finished. "I want you, I need you, and I love you."

Blair chuckled. "Growled at me, no less, how could I distrust that?" he teased lightly, but Jim heard the acceptance in Blair's tone. "Stand up, I want to get your legs."

Smiling, Jim relaxed and let Blair wash him. The intimacy of their act rocked Jim to his core; he rarely shared his showers with his lovers, and knew by doing so he'd been avoiding forging this kind of deep connection. The desire between them felt like a carefully banked fire, one that would burn all night and still be smoldering come morning. One good poke would be that all the fire needed to burn brightly again. The knowledge gave comfort to his exhausted soul.

After rinsing Jim off, Blair stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel off the bar. He waited until Jim had turned the water off before handing him the towel; then took a second towel to dry himself off.

While Blair dressed, Jim hung the towels on the bars, then took the robe off its hook on the back of the door and put it on. Giving in to impulse, he took one last look at his sleeping son.

Aware that Blair had followed him in, Jim spoke quietly. "Still want to do this? You know we're going to have people looking at us."

"Then we do what we can to make sure they can't take Cody away from us," Blair declared, equally quietly. "Who's borrowing trouble now? Come on, it's late and I want to hold you before he wakes us up. Tomorrow will be here soon enough."

Bending down, Jim kissed his son's forehead. Cody stirred slightly but did not wake.

Turning to his lover, Jim took his hand and led the way into their future.

Finis

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Disclaimer & Notes: Not mine. What happens when you attend a coworker's baby shower and have TS on the brain. My knowledge of law is limited, so the rules of fictional law apply. Thanks to Kickair8P and Nevada for the beta of the original version. Originally written as my first Sentinel Angst dues fic; revised and expanded for inclusion in Moonridge. Thanks to Patt for the beta of this version, and to Lisa, Duncan's Twin for putting up with all my last-minute changes!