We are family

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com

THANKS TO: Patt for the story outline, Mary, my beta extraordinaire, the gang at MME who gave me so much support this year whenever times got tough.

DEDICATED TO: My mum (6.4.14 - 12.26.02), and all of our parents.

WARNING: Death of a minor character.

 

"We are family."

Blair muttered a muffled curse into his pillow as the phone rang. Jim sighed and shifted beside him, and Blair snaked out a hand, stilling the man's movement to pick up the phone. "Let it ring."

"Can't do that, Chief. It might be important."

"It's…" Blair lifted his head to squint at the digital display on the alarm clock and groaned. "…Six AM. What on earth could be important at this hour?"

"A crime." Without waiting for a reply, Jim picked up the phone and answered the call, ignoring Blair's baleful glare.

"Ellison. Steven? What's wrong?"

Blair was instantly awake at the mention of Jim's brother's name. He sat up in the bed, pulling the blankets up over his bare chest to ward off the chill in the room. Jim forgot that being a Sentinel and being able to dial down your sense of touch only afforded him protection from the winter cold. Still, Blair had to admit, having a Sentinel as a lover had its advantages, like snuggling up to a human combustion heater every night. He frowned now as said heater threw the blankets off both of them and swung his legs to the side as he continued his phone conversation.

"What? That's great! No problem, we'll be there in twenty minutes. Bye." Jim stood and turned to face his grumpy lover. "Get dressed, Chief. We're going to the hospital."

"What's wrong?"

Jim laughed as he grabbed his boxers and jeans where Blair had flung them at the beginning of their passionate lovemaking the night before. "Nothing's wrong. Kate had the baby."

"Oh, my God!" Blair threw himself out of the bed with alacrity, then stood flat-footed. "What should I wear?"

Jim snorted and tossed his T-shirt at him. "It's a hospital, Sandburg, not a fashion show. Get your clothes on."

"What did she have?"

Jim paused with his foot on the top riser of the stairs. "I forgot to ask."

~o0o~

Ten minutes later, they were in the truck on their way to the hospital. Rain beat a steady patter against the windshield and Blair wondered idly if his mother's musings that the weather at the time of your birth predetermined your personality really had any basis in fact. Dismissing the fanciful notion, he broached a more serious topic. "Jim?"

"Yeah."

"Do you ever think about having kids?"

Jim glanced at him quickly, then turned his attention back to the road, braking suddenly as a car swerved in front of them. "Idiot!"

Blair rolled his eyes as Jim honked his horn loud and long at the perpetrator. Men and their toys. "Do you?"

"What?"

"Think about having kids."

"Doesn't everyone? What, you haven't?" he asked when Blair didn't reply.

Blair shrugged. "Well, of course I've thought about it. I always figured I wasn't a great candidate."

Jim pulled the truck into a parking space in the visitors' car park and turned off the motor. "What do you mean? You'd make a great dad."

Blair felt himself smile, despite the serious note the conversation had taken. "Thanks," he replied graciously. "I mean, I always had so much on my plate, I never had time for a serious relationship… until now," he amended at Jim's frown. He reached out, twining their fingers together. "I wonder sometimes if you'll regret us getting together and not having kids."

Jim loosened his hand and reached out, fisting it gently in Blair's curls, dragging him close. He pressed a chaste kiss to Blair's full lips. "Number one, I will never regret us getting together." He kissed Blair again. "Number two, there's nothing to say that we can't have kids if we really want them."

Blair lowered his head and rested it on Jim's chest. "Number three?"

"What?"

"Well, you were counting. I figured there'd be a number three."

Jim placed a finger under Blair's chin and lifted his head, then bent to capture Blair's mouth again, this time in a long, deep kiss that had Blair moaning. He pulled away and adjusted his pants, grinning. "Number three, I love you. Now, can we go upstairs and see my nephew."

Blair opened his door and climbed out into the chilly night, wrapping an arm around Jim to help them both ward off the cold as they walked to the entrance. "Wait a minute. Nephew? You said you didn't ask what she had. How do you know it's a boy?"

Jim smiled. "Senses, Sandburg."

~o0o~

They were still arguing whether you could really tell the sex of an unborn child by the rate of its heart when they approached the nurses' desk. Down the corridor, Blair could hear the muted sound of crying babies.

"This way, Chief." Jim led the way up to the opposite end of the hallway. Stopping in front of the second door, he tapped lightly, then pushed open the door at the cheerful invitation from within.

Steven was seated on the edge of the bed. His face broke into a wide grin as Jim and Blair entered. "Hey, guys. You made good time. Jim, come meet your nephew."

Jim flashed Blair an 'I told you so' smile and crossed quickly over to the happy couple. Kate lay in bed, propped up on pillows, her long red hair swept up into a ponytail. Her face was flushed but she smiled happily as she studied the tiny bundle in her arms.

Jim enveloped Steven in a tight hug, slapping him on the back so hard Blair was sure he was going to slam him through the wall. Leaning over, Jim kissed Kate's cheek and gently stroked the baby's head. "Congratulations, you two. Kate, he's beautiful. Thank God, he takes after you." He took the elbow in his ribs from Steven in good humor.

Kate looked over at Blair, who still stood by the closed door. "Hi, Blair. You want to see the baby?"

Blair smiled. "Of course, I do. I just thought I'd let you guys have a family moment first."

"You're family too," she said firmly. "Now get over here."

Blair wasted no time moving further into the room. He shared a hug with Steven, and kissed Kate's dimpled cheek.

"Do you want to hold him, Jim?" Kate asked.

Jim straightened and backed up a step, holding his hands up, palms outward. "Um, I don't think…." He looked helplessly at Blair.

"Come on, Uncle Jim," Steven teased, shifting off the bed to make room for his brother. "He won't bite. Big, tough cop like you."

Jim sat as Blair pushed on his shoulders. Gingerly, he accepted the squirming bundle and rested it against his chest. The baby mewled, and Jim froze. "He doesn't like me."

"Sure, he does," Kate assured him. "We just disturbed his nap. Just put your hands here," she shifted Jim's hands so that the child was cradled snugly in his arms, "and here." In moments, the baby's eyes closed and he suckled on a tiny fist.

Jim beamed. "What's his name?"

"Liam James," Steven announced proudly.

"After your dad and Jim. That's nice." Blair rested one hand on Jim's shoulder and stroked the baby's downy head with the other.

"How did you know?" Kate asked.

Blair shrugged. "Well, Liam's a derivative of William."

"Steven wanted William, but I thought it sounded too stuffy and grown up for such a little thing," Kate replied. "Your turn, Blair. He's due for a feed soon."

Blair had no time to react. Jim grinned and thrust Liam into his arms. He tensed, then relaxed as the baby slept on, one delicate hand now curling around his finger. Blair drank in every detail of the precious face. "Wow," he breathed.

The door opened and William Ellison stepped inside, his arms loaded with gaily-wrapped parcels. Sally Lee, the Ellison's housekeeper, followed him in, clutching an enormous bunch of red roses that almost dwarfed her petite figure. She almost bumped into her employer as he came to a sudden stop.

Blair felt the older man's gaze rake over him, and the atmosphere in the room seemed to drop several notches. He bent and kissed the baby's head, before handing him back to Kate.

William moved then, coming forward to shake Steven's hand briskly, then Jim's. Finally he bent to kiss Kate and the baby. "So, this is my grandson, and namesake."

He lifted Liam from Kate's arms, and held him at arm's length, before handing him back to his mother. "He's the image of Steven as a baby," he said with pride.

Steven and Jim exchanged a look, and rolled their eyes. Blair ignored the now expected snub, and turned to take the flowers from Sally. "I'll go see if I can find a vase, if you like, Mrs. Lee," he offered.

"Sally can do that," William interrupted. "How are you, Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair pasted a strained smile on his face. "I'm just fine, Mr. Ellison. How about you?"

William harrumphed as he lowered himself into the chair by the bed. "As well as I can be expected to be when I don't see my family."

"Oh, come on, Dad," Steven interjected. "Kate and I were over for dinner just last week."

William's gimlet glare turned on his older son. "Haven't seen you at the house for almost a month, Jim."

Jim's glare matched his father's and Blair stifled a groan. "You know the reason for that, Dad."

Blair crossed quickly to Jim's side and placed a hand on his arm as William opened his mouth to retort. "We'd better go, Jim. Let your dad spend some time with his grandson." He waited.

Finally, Jim relaxed under his touch. William's gaze had shifted to where Blair's hand rested on Jim's arm and Blair dropped it quickly to his side. He forced a smile to his face. "Kate, Steven, congratulations. Liam's just beautiful." He turned quickly and strode to the door, waiting while Jim said his goodbyes.

Jim ushered him out the door. As the door swung shut, William's voice echoed out to them. "I thought you were calling him William. What kind of name is Liam?"

~o0o~

Blair slammed the door to the truck with more force than necessary and waited on the sidewalk, his arms wrapped around his shivering body while Jim locked the vehicle. Jim's jaw twitched madly as they waited in silence for the elevator to arrive. Once inside, Blair could stand the tension no longer.

"Your dad doesn't like me." He slumped back against the wall of the car. "That's no reason for you not to go see him."

Jim shook his head. "That's every reason to not go see him." His tone brooked no argument but Blair persisted.

"Jim, he's your dad. They're your family."

"Steven and Kate like you," Jim replied mulishly.

Blair couldn't help smiling at the comment. "Yeah, and I like them too, but he's your dad." He followed Jim out of the elevator and into the apartment. Closing the door, he leaned against it, watching Jim stride into the kitchen and pull a carton of milk from within. He shook his head when Jim held it up. "Jim, he thinks we're sleeping together."

Jim took a healthy swig of milk and raised an eyebrow. "We are sleeping together."

Blair groaned. "Nobody knows that."

Jim put the milk back and came out of the kitchen. He closed in on Blair and buried his face in Blair's curls. "I think everybody knows, and they're just not saying anything."

Blair pushed him away, his eyes widening. "Everybody? You mean Simon and… everybody?"

"Mm-hmm." Jim pulled him away from the door and kissed his forehead. "Doesn't bother anyone else, and as long as we keep it quiet, it's nobody's business but ours."

Blair frowned. "If it ever got out…."

Jim turned and headed for the stairs. "It won't, not if we're careful. You going to have a shower?"

"What? Oh, yeah." Blair turned Jim's words over in his head as he followed his lover upstairs. "Jim?"

Jim paused and turned back to him.

"What if someone finds out? I never really thought about it. I guess I should have but…."

"No one's going to find out," Jim said. "We've kept the sentinel stuff a secret."

Blair reached for his hand. "This is different. Your family…"

"The Ellison's are a family of secrets, Sandburg." He shrugged nonchalantly, but his eyes flashed ice. "My father's an expert at covering things up." He yawned. "Go have a shower, huh, and leave me some hot water? I've got to be at the station early."

~o0o~

"Blessed is the child."

"Ow!" Blair carefully disentangled several strands of his hair from Liam's pudgy hand and replaced them with his finger. The baby gurgled happily and gave him an engaging gummy smile.

"Man!" Blair gently jiggled the baby on his lap, supporting the still wobbly neck with one splayed hand. "He's getting so big."

Kate laughed. "He eats like a horse, I'm not surprised he's growing so fast."

Jim and Steven sat at the dining table nursing beers, and watching Blair and Kate spout nonsense talk at the attentive baby.

"So," Jim said. "A christening. When's the big day?"

"Sunday, week after next," Steven replied. "There's something else."

Jim groaned. "What sort of trouble have you got yourself into this time, little brother?"

Steven held up his hands and grinned. "Nothing like that. Since Kate and I got married, I've been strictly on the straight and narrow."

"You'd better believe it," Kate chimed in. Giving Blair a kiss on the cheek, she stood and crossed the room to stand behind Steven, wrapping her arms around his neck. "He's been the perfect husband and father."

Steven blushed, and kicked Jim under the table when he laughed. Watching from the living room, Blair felt the smile on his face grow. This was how family should be, he thought. Close, loving and fun. Though he loved his mother, Naomi, dearly, he'd always regretted that she'd chosen to have no more children after him. He'd never been especially close to his cousins either. Naomi's brother, Walter, had not approved of his sister bearing a child out of wedlock.

Liam emitted a loud, resounding burp that interrupted his musing and had them all laughing, and it was several minutes before the conversation could resume.

Blair stood and handed Liam to Jim, then sat beside him, clasping his hands in front of him on the table. "You were saying, before you were so rudely interrupted?"

Liam offered him another endearing smile and got back to the business of chewing on his Uncle Jim's thumb.

"We'd like to ask you and Blair to be Liam's godparents, and his legal guardians, should anything happen to Kate and me."

Blair thought Jim looked as astonished as he felt, and for a long moment, the apartment was completely silent, save for the contented gurgles of the baby in Jim's arms. Seeing Kate's brow furrow in either disappointment or confusion, Blair decided someone had to say something. "I'm sorry?" Well, okay, his brain hadn't entirely caught up with his ears yet. He tried again. "Me and Jim?"

Kate and Steven nodded. The baby began to fuss, and Kate took him from Jim, carrying him into the living room where she could feed him, and still join in the conversation. Though Jim had initially been a trifle embarrassed by the sight of his sister-in-law baring her breast in front of them, Blair had been delighted at the down-to-earth approach Kate took in caring for her son. Naomi would love her.

Jim took up the slack when Blair seemed unable to continue. "Why us? What about your friend, Emily?"

Steven leaned back in his chair. "As you both know, Kate has no family, other than me and Liam. Emily's been Kate's friend since school, but she's a career woman. She has absolutely no inclination to be a mother."

"She only tolerates Liam because he's mine," Kate put in.

"Dad?" Jim ventured.

"Are you nuts?" Steven exploded. "He screwed up our upbringing enough. There's no way I'm entrusting my son to his care."

"Hey, hey!" Blair said quickly when Liam startled at the sound of his father's raised voice. "Not in front of the baby," he whispered.

Jim rolled his eyes. "Sandburg, he's three months old. He can't understand what we're saying."

"Yeah, well, they say babies can pick up on your body language, man. Anyway, that's still Liam's grandpa you're talking about."

Steven sighed. "You're right, Blair. Look, granted, we're all getting along better these past few months, but no. No way. He's just not the paternal type. He'd probably have Liam in military school by the time he's ten. There's no one else, so that leaves you two."

"Anyway, none of that matters," Kate said decisively. "We happen to think you two are the best choice for Liam."

"I…we work," Jim said, looking desperately at Blair. "We've never had anything to do with babies."

"Well, that little guy, what was his name? Tyler, yeah. He seemed to take quite a fancy to you…" Blair let his voice trail off when Jim speared him with an icy glare.

"You're not helping here, Sandburg," he ground out.

Blair looked suitably chastised but shrugged, then tried again. "And Jim's a cop. It's a dangerous job."

"All right." Kate sat Liam up on her lap and patted his back with practiced ease. "You both work, but so do Steven and I. At least, I'm planning to go back in a month. We've hired a nanny to care for Liam while I'm at work. Her name's Sarah and she's just a dream. Neither Steven nor I knew anything about babies before this little angel was born." She bestowed a kiss to Liam's fuzzy head, then laid him back at her breast, smiling when he began to nurse. "Jim's a cop. Lots of kids have dads who are cops."

"There's something else you need to know." Jim gave Blair a small apologetic smile, and Blair knew what he was about to say. Jim picked up his drink and took a sip.

"It can't leave this room. If anyone found out…"

"That you and Blair are lovers?" Steven said it so casually that Jim almost choked on his beer.

"How did you know?" Jim leaned forward, his eyes narrowing. "Who's been talking?"

"Easy, big guy." Blair rested his hand on Jim's arm, until he felt the tense muscles relax.

"Nobody," Steven assured his brother. "We just figured it out for ourselves."

"Well, actually, I did," Kate interrupted. "They say women are more sensitive about that sort of thing. I think a lot of your friends guessed that you are a couple, but they care about you too much to talk about it. It's actually what cemented the decision for us," she continued. "You and Blair love each other, that's obvious. You have a stable, loving environment, a home, and good jobs, and you adore this little guy. That's all that matters. Besides, it's not as though anything's going to happen to the both of us, and if something happened to me or Steven…"

"We both know that you'd be there for the other one, and especially for Liam," Steven finished. He raised his beer bottle and tipped it toward Jim and Blair. "So, what do you say?"

Jim looked at Blair who smiled and raised his teacup. Jim clinked his bottle against his brother's, then touched it to Blair's cup. "Here's to god-fatherhood."

~o0o~

The apartment was silent as dawn neared but neither man was sleeping. Blair finally tired of the silence, crawling over Jim's body to straddle the bigger man's hips. He wriggled a little to get comfortable, smiling as his movements caused Jim's erection to harden. Leaning forward, he stroked his hands down Jim's broad chest. "You want to talk about what's bothering you?"

Jim stared up at the ceiling. "I should have discussed it with you before telling Steven and Kate about us."

"Seems to me you didn't have much choice."

"That's not the point. I'm constantly on your back about being careful of what you say, watching how we behave around each other in public and at work, and then I go blabbing it to my brother."

Blair thumbed a peaked nipple, and began to undulate gently over Jim's groin. "They knew anyway, Jim, and I think they had to know what they were getting into before naming us as Liam's guardians."

Jim's eyes finally shifted to look at him. "It doesn't bother you that they know about us?"

"If I had my way, man, everyone would know about us, but I know that's not an option. At the same time, if two loving, devoted parents aren't bothered by it, I'm ecstatic. I'm more worried about this guardianship deal. I mean, do we have to do stuff?

"Like what?"

Blair shrugged and switched his hand to give Jim's other nipple its fair share of attention. "Take him to basketball games, go watch him graduate?"

A smile twitched the corners of Jim's mouth. "I guess we do."

"Nice." Blair picked up the pace of his rocking, leaning forward to press a kiss to Jim's lips as his lover's hands came up to anchor at his waist. He watched Jim's face take on a slightly vague expression as he dialed up his sense of touch to better appreciate the delicious feel of Blair's skin ghosting over his cock. "Call Steven tomorrow and tell him to draw up the paperwork."

"Uh-huh."

"You listening to me, Jim?"

"Uh-huh."

"Yeah, right." Blair rolled his eyes, and enjoying the sensation of Jim arching up beneath him, went with the flow.

~o0o~

The day of the christening dawned bright and surprisingly sunny, by Cascade's standards, though an occasional light shower of rain speckled the sidewalk outside the loft. Blair came downstairs from the bedroom, pulling in irritation at his dark blue silk tie. "Are you sure I have to wear this?" he asked Jim, who stood by the front door with their suit jackets in his hand.

"Afraid so, Chief. I'm not big on the formality myself."

"It's not the formality I mind," Blair replied as he pulled the tie loose again and started over. "I'd be all for it if they wanted tuxedos, then I could use one of those nifty bow ties that just clip around your neck. I can't remember the last time I wore one of these." He gave up and pulled the silk from his neck, holding it out to Jim. "I can't get it straight. It ends up looking like I'm wearing a hangman's noose. Can you…."

Jim took the tie and pulled Blair to him, turning him to face away. He slid his arms over Blair's shoulders and knotted the tie. "I remember. It was the day after you moved in with me. When you went to protect Earl's grandmother." He slid the knot up and tugged lightly to center it then pressed a kiss to the nape of Blair's neck. "You looked like a geek."

"Hey!" Blair pulled out of his arms and reached around to swat Jim's backside. He grinned. "I did, didn't I? Fooled those guys though."

"You did," Jim agreed. He glanced at his watch. "Time to go, Chief. Steven and Kate will not be impressed if we're late for our godson's christening."

Blair led the way down the stairs. "Sounds pretty nice, you know? Godson."

~o0o~

Jim hovered at the entrance. He'd always felt vaguely uncomfortable and a little hypocritical in churches. He wasn't a non-believer as such; he'd just never felt the need to prove his belief. The only time he'd felt that praying brought him comfort had been the day Blair drowned.

Shooed from Blair's room, where the young man lay hooked up to a respirator, fighting for his life, Jim had sought refuge in the hospital chapel. He'd prayed then, that his vision of Incacha and their spirit guides had been an omen, and that he had not brought Blair back to life only to condemn him to live the rest of his life in a vegetative state. He'd promised to keep Blair safe; to cherish and protect him forever as long as Blair woke up.

He'd kept those vows, telling Blair of his feelings and love while they recuperated in Mexico after capturing Alex. They'd taken the relationship slowly, both emotionally wary, Blair physically fragile, after what had occurred in the weeks following Alex's arrival in Cascade. The road had been a rocky one, but one which Jim would not swap for the easiest track. By working as hard at their relationship as they did at their working partnership, Jim thought they had a deep and abiding bond that could never be broken.

Blair was already up at the altar, chewing the poor priest's ear about the history of the beautiful old church, and Jim took a moment to simply watch his guide. Kate and Steven had certainly picked the right man in Blair Sandburg to be godfather to their son. The boy would receive a rich education from Blair. He could see it in his mind's eye now. Liam, seated on Blair's lap, blue eyes wide with excitement as Uncle Blair spun a wild and exotic tale.

Jim heard voices outside, muted, harsh whispers. He recognized the male's voice as that of his father. Listening absently, he quickly realized the woman was Emily. He turned to walk to the front of the church but froze when he heard his father mention Blair's name, the tone disparaging. Lowering himself into the last pew, Jim unashamedly dialed up his hearing.

"I suppose you've heard this nonsense about Kate and Steven naming Jim and Sandburg as my grandson's guardians," William said.

Emily's tone was no less disgusted. "I tried to talk Kate out of it. I told her Richard and I would be honored to be the child's guardians, but she politely declined."

"I can understand them asking Jimmy, though his job as a police officer would make it impossible for him to care for the boy, but what about me?" William blustered. "I'm Liam's grandfather, after all. I have ample funds to support him, get him into a good school."

Jim rolled his eyes as Steven's prophecy of William sending Liam to military school came to mind.

"I don't know what's got into Kate since she had the baby," Emily lamented. "Imagine leaving that child in the care of that long-haired, uncouth…"

"Hippie," William finished for her.

"It's the reason I told Richard I'd never have a child," Emily continued. "Turns perfectly intelligent women into gibbering messes. Of course," she hurried on, "it would be different with Liam; I'd be his guardian after all, not his mother, and Kate tells me there's a sizable trust fund already set up for the little one."

"Well, we all know what he's after then, don't we?"

Red filled Jim's vision and anger surged, so raw it burned his chest.

"Jim! Jim!"

A hand shook his shoulder firmly and he blinked, shaking his head to rid the ringing in his ears. He looked up into Blair's worried face.

"You zoning?" Blair hissed.

Jim stood, unclenching his hands, not surprised when he looked down, to see half-crescent shapes in his palms where his nails had dug in. "Just day-dreaming." His throat closed up and he had to push the words out. "What's up?"

Blair studied him carefully for a moment, apparently not convinced. "Ceremony's about to start. We have to get to the front." His gaze swept around the church. "Richard's here, where's Emily?"

"She just arrived. She's outside talking to my dad."

"Okay, good. You ready?"

Jim hesitated. Now was not the time to discuss what he'd heard, and he wasn't sure he wanted Blair to know at all. Jim promised himself though, that unless his father changed his attitude to Blair, there'd be no more visits to the family home.

~o0o~

William stared at the immaculately dressed young woman in front of him. "What do we even know about Sandburg? All I know is that he's been living on Jim's goodwill for close to four years now, for free as far as I can figure. Jimmy tells me he helps him at the police station." The older man harrumphed at that idea. "Studies anthropology at the university. What the hell kind of career is that? I doubt he's ever had a real job."

He leaned closer as he took Emily's arm to lead her into the church. "I have connections. I've been doing a little digging into Professor Sandburg's background. I don't have much yet, but it's there. I just have to look in the right place." He shook his head as he spotted Jim and Blair standing by the font, the younger man unnaturally close to his eldest son's side. "Bastard child of a no-good hippie mother," he muttered.

~o0o~

The day was declared a huge success, even though Liam vomited down the front of the Ellison family christening gown, that had been handed down through the generations, and lovingly restored by Sally Lee.

The Ellison's housekeeper and surrogate mother waved off Kate's profuse apologies with a sweet smile as she held the now settled, sleeping baby. "It's good luck," she assured the young mother. "It means he'll have a long and happy life."

"That must be one Chinese proverb I haven't heard," Blair whispered as he sidled up to Sally and handed her a glass of champagne.

Sally winked at him, and let him in on her ploy to put Kate at ease. "The secret is all in the soaking. Personally, Mr. Sandburg, I think if he can survive having his head dunked in a bowl of cold water, he will have a long and happy life…" Her face creased with concern as Blair's paled visibly. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I forgot about…"

Blair shook his head and squeezed her hand, not wanting to cause the kind woman any distress. "It's fine. It was a long time ago, and I'm okay now."

"Thanks to your Blessed Protector." Her eyes twinkled.

"Has Jim been telling you secrets, Mrs. Lee?"

"I'm Chinese, Mr. Sandburg, and I know what my eyes see."

Blair smiled. "He's all that and more," he confided. "And please, call me Blair."

The two sat together as the evening wound down, making small talk and admiring the baby nestled contentedly on Sally's lap. Blair's focus though had shifted to Jim, his keen eyes taking in the frown that creased his lover's brow, and the tense set of his jaw. Seated in Steven's spacious living room, nursing a scotch, Jim nodded somberly as his brother spoke, but Blair could see he was a million miles away.

~o0o~

Of Love and Loss

Five months later:

'Your entire life can change in a heartbeat.'

Blair couldn't remember now where he'd heard that particular phrase. Didn't matter. He'd never realized just how true it was. He sat at the dining table, leaning forward, his shaking hands clasped tightly together on his lap. Jim sat on the sofa, his face white, his features looking as though they were etched in stone. Simon stood in front of the detective, shredding a cigar to pieces in his hands as he spoke. Blair watched the tobacco flutter to the floor at the captain's feet. Shuddering, he willed himself to concentrate on Simon's words.

"There was a pile-up on the freeway. A car stalled. In all the fog, the car behind didn't see him. None of the other vehicles had a chance." He paused, taking a slow, trembling breath. "Steven… Steven was already dead when the paramedics arrived. It appears he hit the steering wheel. Kate died en route to the hospital. Jim, I'm so sorry."

There was no acknowledgement from the silent man on the couch. Blair had to force the words from a throat so closed over with grief, he thought he'd suffocate. "The baby?"

Jim's head swiveled and empty blue eyes looked at him. Blair thought his lover had never looked so vulnerable.

"What?" Jim's voice was a bare whisper of sound.

Blair felt tears well in his eyes, and he blinked them back furiously, then wiped at them with the back of his hand. Not now, he chided himself. If there was a time Jim needed him to be strong, to stay calm, this was it. "The baby," he said again. "What about Liam?"

"The baby wasn't in the car," Simon said. "They were returning from a fundraising dinner. I'm assuming Liam was left with a babysitter."

Blair nodded, relief sweeping over him, making him light-headed. "Sarah." He looked up at Simon. "Someone needs to let her know, and Mr. Ellison."

"Mr. Ellison was notified by the local precinct," Simon replied. "I'll get someone over to talk to the sitter. Do you know where she lives?"

"She'd be at their house," Blair said. "Liam had a cold, so Kate wouldn't have wanted to take him out." He stood, the thought of having something useful to do lending him strength. "But we should do it. We're Liam's guardians. Right, Jim?"

"What?"

Blair crossed the room and laid a hand on Jim's shoulder. "We need to go talk to Sarah, make arrangements for the baby."

Jim surged up abruptly, dislodging Blair's hand. He turned and walked like an automaton to the foot of the stairs. "I need to be alone for a while."

"What about the baby?"

Jim turned to face him. "Not now. I need some time to think."

"Jim…"

"Blair, leave him be for a while, son." Simon's hand rested on Blair's shoulder. "I'll go out to Steven's place and talk to the girl. See if she can stay with the baby overnight, until Jim decides what's going to happen. Are you going to be all right?"

Blair nodded, reaching his hand up to squeeze Simon's, though his gaze never left the shattered man trudging wearily up the stairs. "I'll be fine, Simon. I'll give him some time alone. I'll call you in the morning."

"All right." Simon walked to the door and shrugged into his coat. "If there's anything either of you need, don't hesitate to call."

"Thanks."

~o0o~

The apartment was too silent, too still. Blair puttered around the living room, tidying up, carrying the notes he'd been working on before Simon had arrived back to his old room. He walked into the kitchen and stood in front of the refrigerator, wondering if he should heat some soup, make tea… Just what the heck did you offer to comfort someone at a time like this? His gaze strayed back up to the loft bedroom. It was still in darkness; no sounds emanated from the room. He looked at the clock on the wall. One A.M. There was no way he was going to be able to sleep tonight, not even with an entire packet of Sleepy Time tea inside him.

He headed for the stairs, switching off lights as he went. He hesitated on the first riser, listening for sounds of distress in the bedroom above, but there was nothing.

The skylight afforded some lighting in the dim room. Blair stood at the top of the stairs and stared at Jim. The detective lay on the bed, on top of the covers, shoes and clothes still on, his face upturned to stare blankly at the ceiling.

"Jim?"

There was no reply. Cursing his reticence, Blair hurried across the room, fearful that Jim had zoned. As he seated himself on the edge of the bed and rested a wide-splayed hand on Jim's chest, the detective blinked, but otherwise didn't acknowledge his presence.

"How you doing, man?" Blair stroked a gentle hand over the muscled expanse of Jim's chest. "Can I get you anything? Some tea, maybe a scotch? I know it's not a good idea to get drunk at a time like this, but I don't think one would hurt…."

Jim flopped over to his side, facing away. "I don't want anything."

"Okay." Blair transferred his caress to Jim's back, stroking up and down the strong spine gently. "Do you want to talk? We need to decide what to do about the baby."

Jim shifted away from him, his movements almost violent. Standing, he turned to face Blair, his arms crossed defensively over his chest. "Just what part of 'I want to be alone,' didn't you get, Chief?"

Blair stood as well, fumbling for the right words as Jim stalked to the railing and looked down on the silent apartment. "I'm sorry," he finally got out. "I thought I could help."

"Nothing will help." Jim's voice was hushed and desolate. "I've just lost the only family I ever cared about."

The words were like a knife in Blair's heart. Turning quickly, he stumbled to the stairs, his steps blinded by the tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone." He stood at the foot of the stairs, feeling lost, adrift. Above him, Jim stared at him, his eyes blank and unseeing. "I'm so sorry, Jim," Blair whispered. Crossing swiftly to the door, he pulled it open and ran for the elevator.

~o0o~

Blair trotted down the street, slipping and sliding on the slick surface, unmindful of the rain that drenched his clothes and hair. When his chest heaved and burned with the effort, he slowed and crossed the road to the small park he and Jim sometimes visited for picnic lunches. Slumping tiredly onto a bench, he cupped his head in his hands and gave in to his own sorrow.

Finally, bone-aching cold seeped into his awareness and he straightened, pulling his sodden jacket more closely about his shivering frame. He scrubbed his hands over his face, then chafed them together, trying to encourage some warmth. Taking a slow, deep breath, he let it out gradually, allowing it to cleanse his body and mind of his anger and despair.

"Fine partner you turned out to be," he griped, ignoring the curious, rather addled look from the drunk trying to sleep on the opposite bench. "Jim's lost half his family in the space of a heartbeat, and you're taking offence at his choice of words." He knew now, knew then, that Jim was probably not even aware of the slight, drowning as he was in a sea of grief.

Slowly Blair got to his feet, stamping them on the ground a couple of times to get the circulation going. Wrapping his arms across his chest, he trudged back to the loft.

Pushing open the apartment door, he was startled to see Jim standing right in front of him, shrugging into his jacket. He held his car keys in one hand. He still looked as white as a sheet and Blair could see dried tear tracks glinting on his face in the glow of the living room light.

"Hey," Blair said, his shame at running out when Jim needed him most coming to the fore once more, and threatening to choke him. "Jim, I'm sorry…."

Before he could go on, Jim dragged him into a tight embrace, his jacket and keys tossed to the floor. "Don't you ever do that again," Jim whispered, his voice harsh. He buried his face in Blair's wet curls, cupping the skull, pressing closer, as though needing to reassure himself that Blair was really in his arms.

Blair wrapped his arms around Jim, holding tightly, and taking comfort from his lover's embrace. "I won't," he vowed. "I won't."

A half-hour later, relaxed and blissfully warm after a shared shower, the two sat side by side on the couch, staring silently into the crackling flames of the fire, hands wrapped around cups of hot chocolate.

"Jim, I'm sorry about Steven and Kate," Blair said finally.

"Me too. I'm going to miss them both so much. Steven and I just got to know each other all over again."

Blair shifted sideways, resting his knee against Jim's thigh. "What happens now?"

"I phoned Dad while you were gone. He wants to see me tomorrow, organize the funeral. God, Blair, he sounded so… old."

"Liam?"

"Sarah's family is keeping him with them until the funeral. I told them we'd bring him home with us then."

"Are you sure that's what you want to do? I mean, how are we going to take care of a baby?"

"I'm not sure of anything right now," Jim said quietly. "All I know is that I… we promised Steven and Kate that we'd be Liam's guardians if anything happened, and I intend to honor that promise."

Blair reached over and took his hand, squeezing it lightly. "Then that's what we'll do."

"God, Blair, I'm so damn tired."

"I know." Blair leaned forward, pressed a kiss to the top of the bowed head. "Let's go to bed, okay? We'll think more clearly in the morning. You can go see your dad…"

"And Steven and Kate. I need to see them too."

"I can come with you, if you want."

Jim shook his head and stood, then hauled Blair up, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and steering him toward the stairs. "Just me, and dad for now, if he wants to be there. You understand, don't you?"

"Of course, it's family. That's the way it should be."

Lying spooned together in bed, Jim stroked a hand over Blair's chest, scratching lightly at his chest hair. "You got any idea what things we're going to need for this baby?"

"None whatsoever," Blair admitted. "But all his stuff would still be at the house. We'll clean out my old room, spruce it up a little. I'll phone Naomi tomorrow. I know she'd want to know. She can help with the finer details."

"What do we do when he gets bigger? I mean this place is fine while he's only eight months old. What happens when he's walking… hell, running?"

"We'll move, buy a big house in the country somewhere, with a dog. I always wanted a dog." Blair drifted toward sleep. "We're gonna be fine."

~o0o~

The day of the funeral dawned, as they always seemed to, steel gray and drizzling with rain. Blair wondered if it were a pre-ordained thing, that days of mourning were meant to be as sorrowful as the people involved.

The day after the accident, Jim had gone alone to identify the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law. William had declined to accompany him, saying he wished to remember the couple as they had been in life. Blair didn't blame him, he could think of nothing worse than losing one's own child. He'd offered again to go with Jim, but the detective had refused.

Blair took heart in the knowledge that Jim hadn't been entirely alone during the terrible ordeal. Unknown to Jim, Simon had hovered in the Chief Coroner's office until the detective left the morgue, then followed him back to the loft, arriving 'incidentally' a few minutes after Jim walked through the door.

The funeral was held four days later, in the same church where Liam had been christened just a few months before. Jim remained stoic through the entire ceremony, an uncanny replica of his father, who stood shoulder to shoulder with him, backs ramrod straight as the coffins were lowered into the shared grave.

Blair stood behind them, one arm supporting Sally as she sobbed quietly. In the other arm, he cradled a sleeping Liam, uncomfortably aware of the distasteful looks he'd received from both William and Emily when Jim had handed the child to him with a whispered, "Take him, Chief."

An afternoon tea had been set up at William's house. Blair gratefully handed Liam over to Sally when the baby woke for a feed and diaper change. He hovered in the background, watching as Sally efficiently stripped, washed and changed the baby, then settled him in his crib to drink a bottle of milk. Blair shook his head. So much to learn, so much to think about.

As if reading his thoughts, Sally squeezed his arm as they left the room. "You'll be fine, Blair, and I'm only a phone call away."

"Blair?" Jim stood at the top of the stairs with a middle-aged, thin man with steel-gray hair and a solemn expression. "This is Donald Porter, the lawyer Steven engaged to handle their affairs. We need to talk." He looked around. "We'll use Dad's study."

Blair followed the two men to the room at the far end of the hall and sat in one of the large leather armchairs at the dark-wood desk.

"All right." Jim stood next to him, one hand resting lightly on his shoulder.

Don Porter eyed Blair nervously. "It might be best if we discussed this matter privately, Jim."

Jim shook his head. "You said this was about Liam. Blair has been named as Liam's guardian, along with me. He has a right to be here."

"All right. Your father has issued a suit, stating he intends to appeal your guardianship."

"What? Why?"

Porter opened the briefcase he carried with him and pulled a folder from within. Opening it, he scanned the first page quickly. "He has doubts that you and Mr. Sandburg would be suitable guardians for Liam."

Blair could feel Jim's hand dig into his shoulder. He bore the discomfort silently, his heart sinking.

"On what grounds?" Jim asked.

"Your job, for a start. You work long hours, are at great risk of injury or death."

"We have a nanny."

Blair glanced quickly at Jim, who smiled tensely.

"Sorry, Chief. There's been a lot to organize. Half the time, I can't remember what we've discussed."

"That's okay." Blair gave him a smile. "Sarah?"

Jim nodded, then moved around to sit in the chair beside Blair. "She offered to continue as Liam's nanny. She's studying childcare at college, so as long as we can work around her class times, she said it would be fine. Any time we can't get home before she needs to leave, her mother, Mary, said she'd be happy to take over until one or the other of us can get there."

"Sounds like it's all worked out." Blair looked at Porter. "Anything else?"

Porter looked uncomfortable. "Your living situation," he said. "Mr. Ellison believes that your living arrangements would be detrimental to the boy."

"He would," Jim replied, disgust thinning his voice. "Where do we go from here?"

"To court," Porter said, snapping his briefcase closed. "Providing, of course, that you don't wish to relinquish your guardianship rights."

"What would happen to Liam then?" Blair asked, although he thought he already knew the answer.

"The child would be placed in temporary foster care, until a suitable home could be found for him. Others could apply to take him."

"Like Dad or Emily," Jim put in grimly. He shook his head firmly. "No. We agreed to this. Liam's coming home with us."

Porter studied them both, his face serious. "All right. I'll get the paperwork drawn up. Will you consent to visits by a social worker?"

"Of course."

"Psychiatric evaluations wouldn't go astray, nor would character references from friends, work-mates, your boss."

"Done."

"One more thing, and you can choose to answer or not, but how we handle this may well hinge on your reply, Jim."

"Shoot."

"Are you and Mr. Sandburg engaged in a homosexual relationship?"

Blair groaned. He felt Jim's hand close over his own. He looked up. Jim smiled gently at him. "This time, I'm asking your permission."

Blair's mouth went dry. "I guess we have no choice," he whispered.

"For now, it's under client privilege," Porter added.

Jim nodded. "Yes, we are."

Porter took a moment to think before he spoke again. "In that case, it might be best if you oppose the suit alone, Jim. Mr. Sandburg can vacate his guardianship and…"

"No." Jim shifted forward in his seat, glaring at the lawyer. "Steven and Kate wanted Blair."

"There are a few, a very few judges in the Family Court who are sympathetic to gay couples adopting children, Jim. Not many. The chance of a judge granting custody to two men is not good, even with legal guardianship already signed over. The rumors alone could be extremely damaging, not only for you, but also for Liam."

Jim shook his head again. "No way. We both apply for custody. End of story."

"Jim?" Blair took a deep breath. "I think we should at least consider it. There's your career to consider as well."

"And yours," Jim reminded him.

Blair shrugged. "Yeah, well, universities are known to be more accommodating to gays than the police force." He took a deep breath. "We have to think of what's best for Liam, man. I could move out, still be near enough to help you out. I could probably find a place in the same building…."

"You have a home." Standing, Jim hoisted Blair to his feet and fixed Porter with a steely glare. "You have our decision. Let us know when to expect the social worker. I'll arrange the psych evaluations and references. Is that all?"

Porter nodded. "For now." He held out his hand, shaking Jim's hand, then Blair's. "As hard as it may be to believe, Jim, I am on your side in this. I just needed you to know all the details. If this is the way you want to go, I'll represent you both to the best of my ability, and I'd like to state now, that it's my opinion that you'll both be excellent parents."

"Thank you, Don." Jim looked at Blair. "Let's pack up what we need, get our godson and go home, okay?"

Blair smiled. "I'm down with that."

~o0o~

They stood in the doorway of Blair's old room, arms looped casually about each other's shoulders, watching the new addition to their family sleep. Liam was bundled snuggly under several blankets, just his round face showing.

"Do you think he's too warm?" Blair whispered. "He looks a little flushed."

"He's got a little bit of a fever, but he's fine. Just tired out, I think, and Sarah said he had a little cold."

"He looks like you," Blair said. "You and Steven, but he has Kate's chin."

"You think so?"

"Yeah, I do." Blair shifted in front of Jim and rested his head against his lover's chest. "Are you sure about the custody hearing?"

"I'm sure. Aren't you?"

"Not really, but I'm glad we're doing it."

"So am I. Let's go to bed. I want to hold you, make love to you." Jim pulled Blair out of the room and steered him toward the stairs.

Blair paused. "Do you think we should? What if we wake the baby?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "I promise to keep my moans of passion to a dull roar."

"You don't moan," Blair objected. "You don't say anything really. You're almost stoic."

Jim frowned. "Stoic? I'll show you stoic, Sandburg. Get your ass up there."

Blair gave a small yelp as Jim goosed him, then bit his lip, his eyes darting toward the nursery. "Should we go to sleep? What if he wakes up and we don't hear him…"

Jim tapped at his ears.

"Oh, right. Of course." Blair trudged up the stairs, shaking his head. "Blair Sandburg with a baby. Who'd a thunk?"

~o0o~

Baby Steps

Two Weeks Later:

The previous two weeks with Liam in their care had gone fairly smoothly. Sarah had been a rock of support and Naomi had phoned several times for updates, promising to come visit her 'grandson' in a few weeks time. Liam seemed content enough though he still called for his mama at times. The cry distressed Blair each time, and he knew Jim felt it even more. Blair had been surprised though, just how right it felt to have Liam in their lives. It was something to look forward to at the end of a hard day, to go home to someone whose eyes lit up with delight the minute you walked in the door.

The division of labor had been an unspoken arrangement, whoever was available at the time took care of Liam's needs. Blair was still researching Jim's sentinel abilities and was teaching classes at the university, often studying late into the night, so he took most of the evening shifts. Jim was usually up before Blair in the mornings, so he got up to the baby at night, and fed him before Sarah arrived. Simon had understood enough to keep Jim's caseload light for a few weeks until they were settled into their new routine, but it was still nerve-wracking, continually wondering if they were caring for Liam properly and giving him everything he needed.

Their sex life had taken a nose-dive, but that was something at least that they'd expected. With their busy work schedules, it wasn't the first time they'd had to replace long nights of passion with shared moments of cuddling and intimacy. Blair never had any doubt that their relationship was secure, and having Liam in their lives had cemented the bond they shared.

The last few nights spent with a fractious, miserable teething baby coupled with working all day had seen both men skating close to the knife-edge of exhaustion. Blair kept a well-thumbed copy of Common Sense Baby Care by the bedside, while Jim had burned up the phone lines for several hours one evening getting advice from a calm and knowledgeable Sally. They had both expressed doubts over the wisdom of their decision at various times in the past week, but a smile or gurgle from Liam soon frittered them away. It was tough going but not more than they had expected.

Blair had insisted that Jim choose the theme for the nursery, and the detective had picked a jaunty blue and white color scheme that could be adapted as the baby grew. He had even pulled a few of his sporting mementos out of storage, setting them up on Blair's old bookcase. Blair had managed to sneak in several well-loved children's books and a rather battered old teddy from his childhood that Liam had instantly fallen in love with.

William had not been to visit his grandson, though Sarah said he'd phoned several times while Jim and Blair were at work. Blair had tried convincing Jim to take Liam to visit his grandfather but had been met with a surly "no". If he wanted to see Liam, Jim said, he knew where they lived.

~o0o~

Blair followed Jim wearily up the stairs to the loft. It had been a long day. He glanced at his watch; make that long day and night. They'd chased down a gang of jewel thieves earlier that afternoon, and had been granted the unprecedented privilege of the rest of the afternoon off by Simon.

They'd stopped at a market on the way home when Blair remembered they needed to buy more diapers. Walking into the small store, Blair prepared a short shopping list in his head, making a mental note to return on Saturday to stock up properly. With Liam unsettled for the past few days, and Blair coming down with a cold, none of them had felt much like a trip to the store, and the cupboards were looking desperately bare, except if you liked baby food and milk.

"Sandburg!" Jim shouted from outside the store, interrupting Blair's indecision over what he felt like eating. Tossing the diapers onto the counter with a promise to return, he hurried out to find Jim already climbing out of the truck and racing down the street.

"Jim?"

"Purse snatchers, Chief. Two of them."

Blair set off after his partner. They'd cornered the men quickly, Jim's superior fitness making it easy for him to overtake one of the thieves. By the time Blair caught up, Jim had his man pressed against the wall and was fishing his handcuffs out of his belt. Blair, agile, though not as fast on his feet, had barreled around the corner of the alley and taken a header over a trashcan the second thief had thrown at him. Landing heavily, he felt his ankle twist beneath him and hot pain shredded up his leg. His hands smacked painfully into the concrete as he held them out in an effort to break his fall.

Jim half-turned at the clatter and Blair's shouted curse, but Blair waved him away, nodding to indicate that he was down but not out. With Jim's attention momentarily distracted, the detective missed the cuffed fist that swung up to meet his face. The blow sent him staggering back but he reacted swiftly. Ignoring the blood that ran freely down his face, Jim grasped the man's hand and pulled it up behind his back, almost but not quite to breaking point. Pushing hard, he pressed his attacker's face against the bricks of the building. Once his prisoner was under control, Jim snapped the free end of the cuffs around a convenient pipe and turned back to Blair.

Blair had his own hands full. He staggered back to his feet, biting back a groan of pain as he tried to take his weight on his injured leg. Hefting up the can that had caused his injury, he stepped in low and threw it at the legs of his fleeing attacker. He watched with self-righteous satisfaction as the man went to the ground in a sprawling heap.

"Nice shot."

He looked up nodding tiredly as Jim stepped over him - when the heck had he fallen down again? Jim leaned down and held out a hand. Blair shook his head. "Think I'll stay here a minute until the world stops moving."

Jim's brow instantly furrowed, but Blair waved the obvious concern away and instead indicated the fallen man. "Go get him, tiger, before he gets away."

Jim straightened without comment, while Blair got busy dialing for backup. An hour and a half later, after stopping back at the store to pick up the diapers and some groceries, plus liniment and extra butterfly closures, the two men hobbled home.

Sarah was just coming out of Liam's room as they walked into the loft. Her eyes widened as she took in their battered appearances. Then she held a finger to her lips. "I just got him to sleep," she whispered. "Poor baby, his gums are really bothering him."

"Sorry, we're late," Blair said, limping into the kitchen to put water on to boil. "Something came up." He rolled his eyes at the inanity of his comment. "You need a ride home, Sarah?"

Sarah paused by the coat rack. "No, it's fine. Jack's picking me up." She eyed Jim as he eased himself down onto the couch with a barely stifled moan. "Maybe I should stay the night. Neither of you look like you're up to coping with a crying baby all night."

Jim shook his head. "We'll be fine, Sarah. Thanks."

"Okay." She pulled her coat off the hook and crammed her knit cap firmly over her long blonde hair. Waving a goodbye to them both, she left, closing the door softly behind her.

Blair made his tea then gathered first aid supplies together and cleaned the cut on Jim's cheek. His duty done, he sat back and allowed Jim to poke and prod at his ankle, bearing the attention stoically until Jim nodded, apparently satisfied.

"No breaks," the sentinel declared.

"I could have told you that," Blair shot back, exhaustion causing impatience to flare. "Don't need to be a goddamned sentinel for that."

"Well, pardon me for caring!" Jim surged to his feet, grabbed a roll of stretch bandage from the first aid box and tossed it onto Blair's lap. "Here, wrap up your own damn foot."

Blair felt his face heat in shame at his unwarranted outburst. "Jim…" But his lover had already stalked away, crossing to carefully open Liam's door.

"Blair? Come here." There was no anger in the tone, just a whispered gentleness.

Blair pulled himself up and limped over to join his partner, poking his head around Jim's large frame to peer into the room. Peeking over the end of the crib, two huge blue eyes stared back at them from a solemn, flushed face. A tiny rosebud mouth curled upward into a welcoming smile, displaying two pearly white teeth.

"Da!" Liam said.

Blair felt like his heart would burst. "He called me 'Da'."

"Actually, Chief, he saw me first, so I think he was talking to me."

Blair felt his mood deflate, despite his pleasure for Jim. "Probably." He stepped into the room and lifted the baby from his crib, quickly checking his diaper. "Oh, yeah. You need a new diaper, little one."

"Here, let me." Large hands reached out, took Liam from him and carried him to the change table in the corner of the room. "Go ice that ankle. I'll be out in a minute to wrap it for you."

"Are you sure? You haven't changed many diapers yet."

Jim glared at him but Blair could see his heart wasn't in it. "I think I can manage a diaper change. Go."

"Da!" Liam said again.

Blair turned back to see the baby smiling directly at him.

"That's right, buddy," Jim crooned. "That's your Da."

Liam gave him a toothy smile and poked a pudgy finger into Jim's chest. "Da-da."

Jim's smile lit up the room. "Right again."

Blair left the two of them to it and went back to the couch. The bandage had unraveled itself when he'd tossed it back into the first aid box. Picking it up, he set about rolling it up again.

"Sandburg? How the heck do you figure out which is the front on these diapers?"

Blowing out a theatrical sigh, Blair got to his feet and hobbled back to the nursery.

~o0o~

A bleary eye opened as lusty cries of anguish floated up the stairs. Blair fixed his lopsided focus on the bedside alarm clock, then shot to a sitting position. He groaned as the movement elicited aches he'd forgotten he had. "Shit!"

Elbowing Jim in the ribs, he threw off the bedclothes and hurried down the stairs, still favoring his sore ankle. "I'm late!" he announced over his shoulder, grimacing at the pain in his throat. "We're late."

"Wha…?"

Blair ignored the muffled response and entered Liam's room, scooping up the sobbing baby.

"Da," Liam snuffled miserably against Blair's chest.

"Yeah, I know," Blair commiserated. "You're wet and hungry, huh?"

Liam set off into another bout of wailing as Blair deposited him on the change table and divested him of his sleeping suit and diaper. "Jim? Run some water in the tub."

"Yeah, yeah, okay." Jim poked his head in the door. "He all right?"

Blair hefted the naked, squirming child and pushed past him into the bathroom. "Better than we'll be if we're late again this morning. Here," he thrust Liam at Jim. "You wash him, I'll get his milk and cereal ready."

Soon, contented splashing and coos of pleasure could be heard from the bathroom. Blair hurried upstairs, and dressed in jeans, finally finding a shirt that appeared to have escaped Liam's nightly food toss. Running a comb through his curls, he once more contemplated the idea of cutting the whole lot off, maybe getting a really radical buzz cut that couldn't be caught in baby fists, then shrugged and scraped it back into an easy to manage ponytail.

He fixed milk and cereal for Liam, and toast and coffee for Jim and himself. His ankle still throbbed a little but even with the bandage, he could see the swelling had decreased dramatically overnight. The cold he'd been trying to ignore for the past few days seemed to be sneaking up on him despite his homeopathic remedies, and he sniffed and cast around for a tissue, then blew his nose loudly.

He glanced at the clock as Jim came out of the bathroom, carrying a towel-wrapped Liam into his room. "Where the heck is Sarah? Simon is gonna be so pissed."

Jim's head appeared through the nursery doorway. "Um, Blair? Sarah's not coming today."

Blair froze with a spoonful of sugar over Jim's coffee. "Please don't tell me it's today."

"It's today." Jim smiled apologetically.

"Fuck."

"Hey, not in front of the baby."

"Right. Sorry. Sorry, Liam." Blair crossed over to stand by the nursery door. "What are we gonna do, man? Look at this place, look at us!" He pointed at the distinctive bruise on Jim's cheek, then held up his grazed hands.

Liam grinned happily. "Da!"

A knock at the front door froze them both. Blair's eyes widened. "It can't be her already. What time did she say she was coming?"

Jim's eyes traveled to the nursery train clock on top of the bookcase. "Now."

"Crap," Blair said feelingly. "Here, I'll throw some clothes on him and stall her while you go get dressed. Really bad start to the interview if you greet her in your boxers, man."

Jim looked down quickly at his state of undress, nodded and strode from the room. "Just a minute," he called to a second knock at the door.

Blair leaned forward and rested his head on Liam's chubby stomach. "We are so screwed," he muttered.

Another knock sounded at the door, followed by a determined rattling of the doorknob. Giving up, Blair threw a blue tee shirt over Liam's head, quickly fitted a diaper and dragged a pair of denim overalls over Liam's legs as he headed to the door.

A thin, stern-featured, gray-haired woman stood in the doorway, one hand raised to knock again. Blair fixed a cheery smile on his face and stuck out his free hand. "Hi there," he greeted. He swallowed nervously as keen brown eyes studied him intently. "You must be Ms. Pope. I'm Blair Sandburg, and this," he jiggled the child draped over his arm, "is Liam. Won't you come in?"

Ms. Pope's gaze shifted downward and Blair watched aghast as Liam's overalls slid to the ground, taking with it a bright blue sock and his diaper.

The social worker bent over, retrieving the items and handed them to Blair. "You might want to fasten that diaper a little better next time, Mr. Sandburg. At this age, they can wriggle out of them in no time."

Blair was certain he detected a faint tone of amusement in her voice. He stepped back allowing the woman to enter.

Removing her coat, the social worker dropped it into his free hand, her gaze roaming over the apartment. "Mr. Ellison?"

"Down in just a minute." Jim's voice floated down from the upstairs bedroom.

"Please, sit down." Blair ushered her into the living room, surreptitiously stuffing several toy cars beneath a sofa cushion and trying not to grimace as he sat down on them.

"You're limping," Ms. Pope said.

Blair waved away the comment nonchalantly. "Took a header over a trashcan when Jim and I were chasing a couple of bag snatchers…." He smiled weakly. "It's nothing, really."

Ms. Pope took the armchair opposite Blair, tucking her dark skirt demurely about her knees. Leaning forward, she smiled at Liam. "Hello there, Liam."

Liam was not impressed with the new visitor. His face screwed up and he let out a wail. Blair jiggled the little boy on his lap, shushing him gently, but his comforting was to no avail. Lifting him, he rested the crying baby over his shoulder and patted his back. "Sorry." He cast an apologetic glance at Ms. Pope. "He doesn't take to strangers very well."

Ms. Pope nodded. "Rightly so, Mr. Sandburg. Separation anxiety is a common thing at this age, and the poor lad's had more than enough upset in his young life." She had to raise her voice to say the last as Liam's cries built to a new crescendo. Blair groaned sub-vocally as he heard Jim come charging down the stairs.

"Liam?" Jim's voice was charged with tension. "What's wrong?"

Blair sincerely hoped he'd kept his gun upstairs. He swiveled on the sofa and fixed his lover with a pleading look. "It's fine, Jim. You know how he is around strangers." Jim stopped at the foot of the stairs, and Blair was relieved to see his hands were empty. "This is Ms. Pope. Ms. Pope, this is my partner, Jim Ellison."

Jim was immediately all charm, crossing quickly to stand in front of the social worker and extending his hand to shake hers. "It's very nice to meet you, Ms. Pope."

Seating himself beside Blair, Jim took the fretting baby and tried his best to calm the infant. Liam was having none of it however, his misery increasing tenfold as Jim and Blair alternately rocked, cajoled and shushed him. Blair could rapidly see parenthood disappearing down the drain.

"Maybe you could try that thing you did the other night?" he suggested softly.

Jim's eyes widened. "I really don't think that's a good idea, Chief," he replied, giving Ms. Pope a nervous look, nudging Blair in the ribs at the same time.

"It works every time," Blair insisted.

Ms. Pope nodded. "If it helps to calm the poor little thing, go right ahead. I'm here to see how you're coping. Just pretend I'm not here. We can have a more in-depth chat when Liam is settled."

Jim stood, somewhat reluctantly holding the baby up securely under his arms, his tiny legs kicking freely as he cried. "Here we go, buddy," Jim said in Liam's ear. "Time to go catch some bad guys."

With that he set off at a brisk pace around the apartment, whizzing the baby out in a wide circle as they rounded tight corners and bends. All the while, he imitated a loud, piercing police siren. Blair sat back and watched his family, smiling widely. Ms. Pope's startled, concerned look changed to one of delight as Liam's cries turned to happy squealing on the third pass of the living room. A couple more laps, and Liam was grinning. Jim flopped back beside Blair, handing the now happy baby back to his partner.

"Your turn," he panted. "I think I'm getting too old for this, Chief." He stopped abruptly and turned a guilty face to Ms. Pope. "I didn't mean… Not too old for Liam… I meant…"

"I know just what you mean, Mr. Ellison, and believe me, there are thousands of parents out there who can sympathize with you. I must admit it's a rather unique way of calming a crying child, but I've always been a big believer in 'whatever works'." She smiled, leaned down and pulled a notepad from her briefcase. "Now, let's get down to the boring part of the visit. Paperwork."

~o0o~

Blair gave Ms. Pope a final wave, then closed the front door and leaned against it. "I really don't want to go through that again," he said fervently. "That was worse than facing a classroom full of freshmen who really don't want to know anything about anthropology."

"Or a crazed serial killer," Jim agreed. He watched Liam for a moment. The baby sat at his feet chewing contentedly on Blair's old teddy.

"What do you think?" Blair asked.

"About what?" Jim stood and walked to the storage cupboard under the stairs, opening it and perusing the contents thoughtfully.

"Do you think we passed?"

Jim had his head inside the cupboard now, rummaging diligently. His voice was slightly muffled when he spoke. "I don't know, Sandburg. She seemed a lot friendlier by the time she left, but I swear to you, if you make me do that police chase thing in front of anyone ever again, I'll kick your ass into next week."

Blair crept up behind his lover and ran a gentle hand down his back. "I think it's cute."

"I think we passed with flying colors." Jim turned and wrapped his arms around Blair. "I think she might have been a little nervous about the gay issue but once she saw we didn't have horns and tails, she relaxed."

Blair rested his head against Jim's chest. "Do you think we should just come out? Get it over with before the rumors start? What if we're called on it and we're accused of lying about our relationship. We could lose him." He turned in Jim's arms and smiled at Liam.

"We haven't been asked under oath about our relationship. So far, it's confidential," Jim replied. "We've weathered rumors and comments at the station before now, Blair. We'll do it again. If it has to come out later, fine, but let's not go borrowing trouble."

Blair nodded. A football appeared in front of his face.

"You know what else I think?" Jim asked. "I think it's a beautiful day, and seeing we have the rest of the day off, we should make the most of it. How about a picnic in the park?"

"Liam?" Blair called. "You want to go to the park?"

Liam held up his arms and bounced up and down on his bottom. "Ba," he said happily.

"Ball? That's right," Blair enthused. "I think we have a genius in the family, Jim."

"Gets it from me." Jim ducked the expected whack to his head.

~o0o~

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down.

Blair drove to the university at a sedate pace. Warmth was finally creeping into the Cascade atmosphere, making him feel laid back and pleasantly settled. Some of his wellbeing stemmed from the weekend he and Jim had just shared. Sarah had arrived on Friday morning asking if she could 'borrow' Liam for the weekend. Her parents hadn't seen the little boy for several weeks and were anxious to spend time with him. Though Jim had protested initially, Blair knew that it was Jim himself who had 'secretly' set the weekend up.

Blair had been unable to shake off the lingering effects of the flu he'd caught a month before. Since his drowning in the fountain, his lungs were more susceptible to infection, and it seemed every cough or sniffle turned into full-blown bronchitis. Both men had been run down from a full caseload at the PD, Blair more so as finals week at the university had come and gone, leaving him trying to fit forty-eight hours into each twenty-four. He knew he was dragging his feet, finding it almost impossible to even get up in the mornings, and leaving Jim with the lion's share of caring for Liam.

They'd waved goodbye to Liam and Sarah, and spent a leisurely Saturday in the loft, cleaning - well, Jim cleaned while Blair lounged on the couch and made a note of some of the long-neglected tests they could run on Jim's senses now Blair's time was a little more free. Blair spent hours cooking a special dinner, including all of Jim's favorite foods. Walking back into the living room after putting the leftovers into the refrigerator, he found a large blanket spread out on the floor, and a naked Jim Ellison reclining on it with a bottle of massage oil in one hand.

Usually it was Blair who performed the honors. His mother had taught him a lot of holistic and natural therapies, and when Jim came home with strained, sore muscles, Blair found his firm, knowledgeable touch was the best cure for a stressed-out sentinel.

Now, Jim patted the blanket in invitation. Smiling, Blair approached him and knelt in front of his lover, reaching out to take the oil, but Jim shook his head.

"My turn," he said, one hand stroking gently down Blair's cheek. "I think it's time you had some attention."

It had turned out to be the most exquisite two hours that Blair could ever remember spending, as Jim used his sentinel touch to seek out tensed muscles, coaxing them with strong, large hands into utter relaxation. Turning a boneless Blair onto his back, the massage became more sensual as Jim teased at Blair's nipples, proclaiming sadness that Blair was no longer wearing his nipple ring. Blair had decided that Liam tugging on his long hair was one thing, there was no way he was risking the baby discovering the pretty plaything on his Da's chest. Jim shrugged and scraped fingernails through Blair's chest hair, then bent his head and tugged gently on the aforementioned nipple with his teeth. Blair arched up at the incredible sensation, deciding that the nipple ring was definitely overkill when it came to Jim Ellison's mouth.

Jim continued to explore Blair's body with fingers and tongue until his lover was writhing with need. Their lovemaking from then on was slow and languid, neither of them wanting it to end. Later, spent and sated, they curled up in each other's arms and slept through the night on the floor. They spent Sunday cruising around the small outdoor markets nearby, stopping for lunch at Blair's favorite Greek restaurant, then finished their weekend of freedom in bed, only this time it was Blair who took the upper hand.

Getting up early on Monday morning, Blair discovered, though his flu seemed to have worsened, he felt more energized than he had for more than a month. He arranged to meet Jim at home that evening. He had a full schedule at school, then several blissful weeks free to spend with his family.

The adoption hearing still loomed a month in the future, but Thea Pope had assured them they had nothing to worry about. All the reports she'd made had been favorable. She confided that she considered them to be perfect candidates for parenthood, and Simon and Brother Jeremy from Saint Sebastian's had given both men glowing character references.

Jim's lawyer still expressed concern over their chances of being granted custody of Liam if they were both named in the petition but Jim was adamant. Stephen and Kate had asked them both to be guardians and he planned to honor that request. After all the hardships they'd endured in their time together, Blair had never felt so assured of his place at Jim's side.

He parked the car, deciding his luck was really in when he found a space almost directly outside Hargrove Hall. Whistling happily, he hurried along the narrow corridor to his office and inserted the key in the lock. The door swung open.

His instincts honed by almost four years of hanging with cops, Blair took a step to the side and pushed the door open the rest of the way. Angling his head so that he could see into the room, he gave the interior a careful scan. Nothing appeared out of place and he could detect no movement from within.

Cautiously, he stepped into the room, his gaze sweeping the corners for any signs of an intruder. A large manila envelope lay on the desk with his name neatly typewritten on the front. Breathing a sigh of relief, assuming a staff member had dropped off a report, he broke the seal and tipped the contents onto the desk.

He felt the color drain from his face as he surveyed the small stack of glossy photos. Picking up the topmost picture with a shaky hand, Blair stared in open-mouthed astonishment. Dropping it back to the desk as though it had burned his fingers, he fanned the rest of the photos out, and collapsed heavily into his chair.

Every black and white image showed Jim and himself. Each showed the two men in affectionate poses. There were several of Jim holding Blair's hand or with his arm draped casually over Blair's shoulders. Blair recognized the markets in the background from their visit the day before. One had been taken at the entrance to the apartment building, the door partly ajar, truck keys dangling from Jim's hand as he kissed Blair, who held a smiling Liam on his hip. Blair remembered the occasion clearly. Jim had gone to an overnight conference the week before. Blair had chided him on taking the risk of even a quick peck on the cheek in public, and Jim had blown the comment off, chucking Liam under the chin and saying that Liam didn't appear to mind.

"Well, someone obviously did," Blair muttered now. The phone rang, startling him, and he picked up the receiver and identified himself.

"Mr. Sandburg. I'm assuming you got the package I left for you this morning."

Blair straightened in his seat. "Who is this? What the hell do you mean breaking into my office?"

The caller's voice was smooth and unruffled. "On the contrary, Mr. Sandburg, the department secretary was kind enough to leave the envelope for you. I explained they were important legal documents pertaining to the custody hearing for Liam Ellison. She was most helpful."

Blair felt sweat break out on his brow. "Where did you get these? Who are you?"

"It's really not important, Mr. Sandburg. Suffice to say the photos exist, and there are of course, more copies. As a matter of fact, I have another two envelopes right here in front of me, one addressed to your Chancellor, the other to the Police Commissioner."

Blair clenched his hand around the phone. "What do you want?"

"I would have thought that was obvious, Mr. Sandburg. My clients do not believe that Liam Ellison is being raised in a fit and proper manner. They would like you to consider moving on."

"And if I don't?"

"The photos will be delivered."

"I'll take my chances," Blair spat. "Universities are liberal places."

"I'm not sure Chancellor Edwards would agree with you. The University is already looking upon your frequent, prolonged absences as a dereliction of duty. I think the Ventriss case proved that."

"What if I just take all this to the police?"

"Do you really want to risk Detective Ellison's career that way? He is, after all, a decorated officer. Can you be sure this won't affect him? Think of the rumors. You're an anthropologist, Mr. Sandburg, you know many police officers don't take kindly to gays on the force. I'm envisioning a situation now. Detective Ellison injured, perhaps in the line of duty. You, his faithful side-kick, calling for help that arrives too late." "

"You still haven't told me who you are." Blair was finding it difficult to breathe and his stomach churned queasily.

"Let's just say I'm a broker for concerned individuals…"

"And you're not going to tell me who," Blair interrupted. "But I bet I can guess," he muttered under his breath. He took a slow, shaky breath. "What happens to Liam and Jim if I leave?"

The voice took on a jovial tone. "Detective Ellison will be left to raise his adopted son, with his family's support." He paused for a moment. "And of course to continue his distinguished career."

Blair felt a part of him shrivel up inside. "I need time to think," he said hoarsely. He could get to Jim, he'd track this bastard down and …

"I'm a generous man. You have until tomorrow morning. If I am not informed of your imminent departure, both these envelopes will be dispatched to their destinations."

"I could tell you I'm leaving and not go."

"And the envelopes would still be here for such a contingency plan. Personally, I have nothing against gay relationships. I am simply doing what I have been paid to do. Come now, Mr. Sandburg, those photos show a couple very much in love. If you truly care for Detective Ellison and Liam, I think you'd want to do the right thing."

After a moment, he rifled through the photos on the desk until he found the last one. "Oh, God."

The quality was rather grainy, but there was no mistaking the couple in the freeze frame. A naked Jim Ellison sat astride an equally bare Blair Sandburg in the living room of the loft. Blair's neck was arched back, his hips thrusting up as Jim fisted his cock.

The voice changed; the tone becoming hard, low and menacing. "Of course, there are other ways to convince you to leave. I was hoping physical force would not be necessary. I find violence abhorrent in the extreme."

Blair straightened in his chair. "I’m not afraid of you," he said.

"And how can you be sure I was referring to you? Your mother, Naomi, a lovely woman, if I may say so."

"You leave my mother alone!" Blair shouted. His knuckles whitened around the receiver.

"Twenty four hours, Mr. Sandburg," the caller said. "Make your decision."

The call ended abruptly. Blair let the receiver drop to the desk. Fighting back nausea, he lowered his head to his knees and cradled it in his hands. Picking up the incriminating picture, Blair tore the photo into pieces and threw it into the trash, then bolted for the bathroom.

~o0o~

He drove around Cascade for hours, not arriving back at the loft until after 9PM. Jim had called his cell phone several times, but Blair let it ring out each time. Now, he sat in a parking space in front of the loft and looked up at the welcoming glow of light that shone from the third floor windows.

Wanting nothing more than to go upstairs, wrap himself in Jim's loving arms and confide all, Blair clutched the secret to him and wearily entered the apartment building.

Jim was seated on the couch with a sleepy-eyed Liam on his lap. The TV was tuned to a basketball game but Jim's eyes shifted immediately to the door when Blair stepped inside. "Hey." The detective stood and shifted Liam's head to rest against his chest as the baby sounded a drowsy protest at being disturbed. "I'll just put him down."

Blair nodded silently and dropped his backpack onto the floor, then crossed to stand in front of the balcony doors. He stared into the darkness, his thoughts in turmoil. Arms snaking around his chest startled him and when Jim leaned in to nuzzle at his neck, he stiffened, his eyes darting nervously to the view outside.

"Where have you been?" Jim whispered, snuffling gently into the cold curls that had escaped Blair's ponytail.

"Sorry. I worked late. Just got caught up."

"I called your office and your cell phone. They both rang out."

Blair pulled away from Jim's embrace. Walking quickly into the kitchen, he filled the teakettle with water, hoping Jim couldn't see his trembling hands. "I was in the library, doing research. I forgot to call. I'm sorry."

"No biggie." Jim was leaning against the post by the kitchen now, watching him preparing his tea.

Blair could feel himself melting under the intense scrutiny. He busied himself with teabags and water, aware of Jim brushing against him as the other man reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a covered bowl.

"I saved you some dinner." Jim held the dish out to him. "Stir-fry chicken and cashews. It should be fine heated up."

"I'm not hungry." Blair picked up his cup and walked past Jim, freezing as his lover's hand pressed against his forehead.

"You've got a fever." Jim made it sound like an accusation, or maybe it was Blair's conscience eating at him.

"Probably why I'm not hungry. Looks like all that great sex on the weekend didn't cure my flu after all," he quipped, then almost choked on the words. He waved a vague hand in the direction of the living room. "Think I'll sleep here tonight. I don't want you catching it."

"If I was going to catch it, Sandburg, I already have, after the amount of kissing and other things we did Saturday and Sunday." Jim stepped closer, pulling Blair to his chest. "It's early yet. You want to watch the end of the game with me?"

Blair squirmed out of his embrace and turned away from the shocked look on Jim's face.

"What's wrong with you tonight, Sandburg?"

"Nothing." Blair felt his eyes being drawn back to the balcony doors. "Geez, Jim, just because I don't want sex every night doesn't give you the right to give me the third degree!"

"Who said anything about sex?"

The silence in the loft was deafening.

"Jim, I'm sorry." Blair turned back to his lover, his heart clenching as Jim's face closed up.

"Forget it." Jim's voice was a low growl. He strode to the stairs and started up. "I'm going to bed. Take the couch, Chief. You know where the extra bedding is."

~o0o~

Blair didn't bother with the bedding or the couch. He prowled the apartment until the first hints of dawn lightened the loft. He crept into Liam's room several times and watched the baby sleep, his hand gently stroking over a downy-soft cheek. Twice he stopped at the foot of the stairs, desperate to go up, every fiber of his being screaming at him to tell Jim, common sense telling him that Jim could fix it and make it all go away. Fear won out, and 6AM found him packing a duffel bag with a couple of changes of clothes scrounged from the laundry basket.

He refused to take a final look around. His hand was on the doorknob when he heard Jim's voice behind him.

"Going somewhere?"

Blair contemplated continuing, but turned at the worry he could hear in Jim's voice. "I just need to get away for a while. Think things over."

Jim took a step closer, crossing his arms over his chest as though by doing so he could protect himself from whatever blow Blair was about to deal. "What's happening, Blair? Talk to me."

Blair shook his head. "I just need to think about things, about this." A sleepy wail from the nursery caused a lump to rise in his throat. "All of it."

"You and me, or you, me and Liam?"

"I told you I didn't know if I'd be a good parent. It's just been too much all at once. I'm not sure I'm the right person to be caring for a baby."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "So, you want me to choose between you and Liam?"

"No! Of course not." Blair's hand crept back to wrap around the doorknob. "Look, it's a lot to take on. I just need to know I'm doing the right thing by you and Liam."

He turned and pushed open the door. "I'll call you."

"Aren't you going to tell me where you're going?"

"I'll call you," Blair said again. He slammed the door behind him and ran down the stairs, terrified that a moment's hesitation would make him change his mind.

~o0o~

Blair sat in his car on the outskirts of Cascade, a thousand what-if's going through his mind. He could call Simon, he thought, let him handle it, but the awful specter of bigoted cops rose in his thoughts, and he scrapped the idea. Naomi was safe, at least for a while. She wouldn't be back in the country for another week. He needed somewhere to lay low, and think things through properly. Christ, he was tired. A tickle in his throat became a full-fledged hacking cough that had him gagging on rust-colored sputum. Shaky and spent by the time the coughing fit was over, Blair rested his sweating forehead against the steering wheel. A face came to mind, a smiling, understanding face. Putting the car into gear, Blair steered the car back onto the road, and headed for his safe haven.

~o0o~

Blair didn't call. For three days, Jim waited, and his despair and concern mounted with every minute that passed without word. On the fourth day of dragging himself into the squad room, casting surly looks and ominous growls at anyone who asked after Blair, Simon called him into the office.

"Sit down, Jim. You look like shit," Simon commanded. He poured coffee into two cups and slid one over to the detective. "Liam still keeping you up nights?"

Jim shook his head, and wrapped both hands around the coffee cup, grateful for the warmth seeping into his flesh. "No, sir. Sleeps through the night without a peep."

Simon sat, nodding his head thoughtfully. "That's good. Haven't seen Sandburg for a while."

Jim felt fire flash through him and clamped his jaw shut in an effort to control another outburst. "He went away for a few days."

Simon sighed and put his cup on the desk, leaned forward and clasped his hands in front of him. "Where is he?"

"I don't know." Jim scrubbed a hand over his face, feeling a sandpaper scratch of bristles tickle his palm. He'd forgotten to shave. "He needed some time to think things over. Said he'd call. He hasn't." The clipped words were all he could deliver without tipping over into total despair and making a complete fool of himself.

"Take a few days off."

"Sir?"

"Go find your partner." Simon's emphasis on the last word left no doubt in Jim's mind that Simon knew exactly what was going on, but there was no disgust or anger in his tone, merely concern.

Jim stood, feeling as though he'd just scaled Everest. "Yes, sir." He turned back at the door. "Thanks, Simon."

Simon waved him out impatiently. "Just be quick about it. I need my best team back on deck, and that little boy needs his parents."

~o0o~

Jim asked Sarah to take Liam to stay with her for a few days. He felt heartsick as he kissed the baby goodbye, his own tears mingling with Liam's who brokenly sobbed for his 'Da-da' as he reached out to Jim. The child had been through too much already, but Jim knew he couldn't care for Liam properly when his every waking thought was of Blair, and every glance at the baby reminded him of the man missing from his side. In the back of his mind was a ticking clock reminding him they only had three weeks until the court date.

Jim searched everywhere. He tried phoning Naomi, who was unsurprisingly out of the country. Jim wondered idly where she got the money. She certainly didn't seem to share it with Blair. The grad student was perpetually broke. That thought led to another. Wherever Blair had gone, he had to be staying somewhere that wouldn't cost much.

Hopes lifting, Jim dialed Saint Sebastian's, praying that the monastery's unreliable phone was working. Brother Marcus answered the call.

"Brother Jeremy is on a sabbatical," he explained. "He left me in charge." He chuckled a little at the unlikely notion.

"Have you spoken with Blair in the past few weeks, Brother Marcus?"

"He called to tell us of your brother and sister-in-law's untimely passing, Brother Jim. You have our condolences."

"Thank you."

"He also told us of the new member of your family. He sounded very excited and happy then, but…" Marcus' voice trailed off.

"But what? Marcus, please. Blair is missing and I can't find him anywhere."

"Perhaps he simply needed some solitude," Marcus said. "He has a great deal on his young mind."

Jim picked up instantly on the hesitation in Marcus' voice. "So, he told you what was wrong? You've spoken to him again?"

"I've spoken with him," Marcus confirmed. "He didn't tell me much, but it was obvious that something was troubling him."

Jim heard a voice in the background calling the monk's name.

"I'm sorry, Brother Jim. I must go. Blair has some soul-searching to do. I'm sure he'll be in touch when he's ready."

"He could be hurt, sick," Jim said desperately. "He was sick when he left, Marcus."

"We'll pray for him, and you, Brother Jim. Goodbye."

Jim stared at the phone for a long moment, then slammed it back into the receiver. He stood and circled the living room, his gaze alighting on photos of Blair with him, Blair with Liam, Blair's masks, Blair's books. Groaning in frustration, he swept out a foot and kicked at the bookshelf, watching with no satisfaction as it collapsed back against the wall and deposited Blair's treasures in a scattered pile on the floor.

~o0o~

Jim let himself quietly into Blair's office. The university was closed essentially for the summer break, but Jim had found the spare key the anthropologist kept in the top drawer of his desk when he'd searched the loft for some idea to his whereabouts. Looking around the empty room, Jim wondered where to begin, and what clues to Blair's disappearance he expected to find here.

He decided to start at the desk and work his way around the room. A search through the papers piled high on the desk yielded nothing, so Jim began on the drawers. Something caught his eye in the trashcan on the floor, almost hidden by the leg of the desk. A black and white photo had been torn into pieces and thrown into the bin. Jim cleared the desk and upended the bin onto it. Sorting through the pieces, he recognized Blair's face. Curious now, Jim found sticky tape, then sat with infinite patience and a sentinel eye and carefully taped the picture back together.

An hour later, he pushed the chair back and stared in horror at the evidence before him. Picking up the photo of Blair and himself, he gripped it tightly, wanting nothing more than to screw the abhorrent item up and burn it.

Common sense prevailed and he sat back in the chair and methodically went through every person who he thought would benefit from his partner being out of the picture. The list was short. Standing, Jim hurried from the office and strode to his truck, the photo concealed in a manila envelope. Starting the engine, he rested his head against the steering wheel and tried to calm his pounding heart. He planted his foot on the accelerator and squealed out of Rainier's parking lot.

Storming back into the loft, Jim dialed up his sight and quickly found the tiny, state-of-the-art camera. Wrenching it from the keyhole of the antique mantel clock he’d given Blair on their first anniversary together as a couple, Jim tossed it to the floor and ground it savagely under his boot. "Son of a bitch!"

~o0o~

Holding on

Jim didn't bother to knock at his father's door. Steering Sally toward the kitchen, he softly requested that she stay there and marched down the hallway to his father's office, his shoes sounding a rapid tattoo on the parquetry floor. He burst through the office door and pinned William with a murderous glare. "What did you do?" Jim demanded, a distant part of him surprised that his voice sounded so rock-steady when his insides were quaking like jelly. "You sick bastard, what the fuck did you do?"

William looked up slowly from his papers and let his pen clatter softly to the desk. His face was as white as the carpet at his feet. Straightening in his chair, he squared his shoulders and stared back defiantly at his son. "I did it for my grandson… and for you."

Jim took several steps into the room until he stood in front of the desk. Leaning down, he smacked his palms down on the polished surface and sneered at his father. "Don't you dare try to make your disgusting behavior into something heroic. Where are the negatives?"

William bit his lip. "I'm not going to tell you. Is he gone?"

Jim's voice was a menacing growl. "You know damn well he is."

"Then the negatives will be destroyed."

"Not good enough, Dad. I'll get a warrant for a search."

"With what evidence?" William's voice dripped sarcasm. "A photo of you and your fag lover screwing each other? Let everyone know what you are?" He waved a hand toward the safe. "They're in there. I don't need them any more."

Jim crossed to the safe and placed his hand on the dial.

"The combination is…"

"I don't need the damn combination," Jim spat over his shoulder. He knew it would be faster if he used the code. God knew, he needed to get out of this house quickly and never look back, but a perverse, seething part of him wanted to throw his senses up at his father, to rub William's face in another part of his son's life in which he'd failed so miserably.

Jim tuned out William's presence and had the safe open in a few short minutes. Rustling through the contents, he fisted the small roll of negatives and pocketed them. He didn't look at his father again when he walked to the door.

"Regardless of what you might think now, eventually, you'll thank me, Jimmy. He was only there to get what he could. Once he'd done that, he would have left anyway, and there was no way the courts would have allowed you to adopt Liam while you had that… man living with you. I did what I had to do."

Jim gripped hold of the doorframe in an effort to control the anger and hate rolling over him. "Stay away from my family."

He stalked from the room and didn't look back. The negatives felt like lead against his chest. He struggled to draw in a deep breath as he made his way back to the truck. It was a hollow victory unless he could find Blair.

~o0o~

The persistent tapping at the door finally permeated through to his brain, and Jim sat up, scrubbing at his face. Looking around blearily, he realized he'd fallen asleep on the couch. The TV hissed static and the loft was in darkness. The knock at the door sounded again.

Jim hurried to the door and pulled it open, his hopes of finding Blair on the other side dashed, then fear clutched at his gut. "Brother Marcus? What are you doing here?"

He ushered the monk into the apartment and turned on the living room light. Marcus was dressed in a gray shirt and dark blue trousers, a light jacket draped over his arm.

"I had some errands to attend to here in Cascade," Marcus began. "I have been wrestling with my conscience for some time, Brother Jim, and I've come to a decision." He took a deep breath. "Blair is at Saint Sebastian's."

"You told me…"

Marcus held up a hand. "Brother Blair asked me not to tell anyone he was there. I honored his request, but…. He's sick, Jim, not just a physical illness, but heartsick. With his soul so weighed down with sorrow, I have doubts he will recover, and I'm afraid if he decides to leave the monastery, it will be impossible to find him again." He shrugged. "He is, after all, Naomi Sandburg's son, well-known for her proclivity for packing up and leaving when the going gets tough."

Jim bristled a little at those words. "The Blair Sandburg I've come to know and love doesn't do that. He's stronger than that."

"You know then, that he did this to protect you and the child."

Jim shivered as a flash of memory assailed him. Alex. Jim wrongly assuming he was protecting Blair by pushing him out, realizing almost too late that he'd left him vulnerable to attack. He shook the thought away and picked up his truck keys and cell phone. Ushering Marcus out the door, he asked, "What made you change your mind?"

Marcus' mouth turned upward in a small, sad smile. "Blair asked Brother Marcus to keep a confidence, and Brother Marcus took a vow to honor that." He waved a hand over his clothes. "Jackie Kozinsky did not."

"Now I know where Sandburg gets his obfuscating skills from."

Marcus let out a loud snort of laughter at that, but quickly sobered. "We must hurry. You know the way. I'll meet you there. This is one time when speed is of the essence. I trust Brother Jeremy will forgive my stretching of the rules in allowing you to drive straight to the monastery."

"I'll put in a good word for you," Jim said over his shoulder as he hurried down the stairs.

~o0o~

Pushing open the door of Blair's small cell, Jim faltered in the doorway and dialed up his sight to compensate for the darkness of the room. "Blair?"

The man lying on the bed didn't stir and concern galvanized Jim into action. He crossed to Blair's side and dropped to sit on the edge of the bed. Blair's skin looked almost translucent, his forehead shiny with a thin layer of sweat. Jim reached out a hand and laid it against Blair's whiskered cheek. Blair's skin was burning with fever and focusing inward, Jim could hear fluid gurgling in tight lungs, an obvious wheeze accompanying each struggling breath.

"Oh no!" Hurrying back to the door, Jim summoned the monk who hovered nervously in the corridor. "We need an ambulance. Hurry!"

Brother Marcus ran toward him, his breath panting as he forced his rotund frame to move quickly. Pushing past Jim, he went to Blair's side and looked down at the ill man. "I'm sorry, Jim. He wasn't this sick when I left."

"He wouldn't let us call anyone." The other monk's eyes telegraphed regret. "I wasn't sure what to do."

"Don't worry about that now." Jim forced himself not to attack the young man for his foolishness. "Sandburg can be very stubborn. Please, the ambulance."

The monk nodded. "Right away."

Jim turned back and took Blair's lax hand in his, squeezing lightly. "Hang in there, Chief. Everything's going to be fine." He wished he felt as confident as he sounded. Blair's eyelids cracked open and Jim leaned forward eagerly, but there was no recognition in the confused gaze.

~o0o~

Jim paced the waiting room with short, choppy steps, silently berating his father. His head pounded as hospital sounds clattered around him, and he found it impossible to draw his attention away from Blair in the trauma room to concentrate on turning down his internal dials. A hand descended on his shoulder and he spun, startled, coming face to face with Simon Banks.

"Sorry," the captain apologized. "It's not often I get the drop on you." He looked toward the direction of the trauma rooms. "How is he? Any word yet?"

Jim shook his head, words stuck in his throat.

Simon took his arm. "Come on, let's sit down for a minute and you can tell me what happened?"

Jim allowed himself to be towed over to a chair and pushed into it. Slumping forward, his head in his hands, he recounted the whole sordid story. He expected some sound of disgust or at least distaste when he finally confessed he and Blair's true relationship to Simon, but there was only silence. He looked up. "No lecture, Simon?"

"I'll tell you now, I'm disappointed. Damn it, Jim, I thought we were friends! I saw things, wondered, but I kept putting it down to this sentinel thing. The others insisted there was more to it, but they didn't have the advantage of knowing about this connection that you and Sandburg share."

Jim's eyes widened. "The others? You telling me we've been break room fodder for how long and you said nothing?"

Simon frowned. "Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black, Jim? Anyway, if I'd told you, would you have told me the truth?"

Jim sighed. "Probably not. Until Liam came along, it didn't seem there was any reason for anyone to know. There was talk," he tapped at an ear, "but I knew that was mostly disgruntled cops not liking having someone like Sandburg around."

Simon smiled at that. "The perennial flower-child." He shook his head. "I have to admit I was one of those who doubted Sandburg’s place at the PD, for quite some time. What about your father, Jim?"

Jim scrubbed at his face, unwilling to admit to the sadness that was tearing at him. "I don't know, Simon. A part of me wants him charged, another… He swears he didn't sanction the threats against Naomi. I can guarantee he won't try something like this again, but I need to talk to Blair first. It'll be his decision."

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim stood and strode to meet the doctor standing by the desk. He shook the dark-haired woman's proffered hand. "I'm Detective Ellison. This is Captain Banks."

The woman nodded, then studied the chart in her hands. "Mr. Sandburg is suffering from pneumonia. His condition is serious but he's stable. We have him on oxygen, IV fluids and broad spectrum antibiotics."

"So, he's going to be all right?" Jim fairly vibrated with tension.

The doctor smiled. "I think so. We're running some tests to ascertain the infecting agent, and once we know that, we can ensure he's on the correct antibiotic. He's weak though, rundown, malnourished and dehydrated. He'll be here for at least three to four days."

"Can I see him? Is he awake?"

The doctor put hand on Jim's arm. "Let them get him settled upstairs. Check with the nurse on the third floor. She'll tell you when you can see him."

Jim was already heading for the elevators, leaving Simon to thank the doctor, then hurry after his friend.

~o0o~

Blair's eyes opened the moment Jim stepped into the room. His mouth turned up in a weak attempt at a smile and a shaky hand reached up to push away the oxygen mask.

"Leave that on." Jim's tone was harsher than he meant it to be, as relief washed over him at seeing his lover awake. He crossed to the bedside in a few long strides, and closed his own hand over Blair's, repositioning the mask and tightening the straps. He sat in the chair provided but kept his hand where it was.

Blair's eyes were red-rimmed and heavy, dark circles and beard stubble, a stark contrast against his pallor. Jim shifted his fingers, stroking gently down one whiskered cheek.

"This a new look, Chief?" he asked, smiling. "I'm not sure what Liam's gonna think of his Da with a beard."

Blair looked away, causing Jim's hand to lose contact and drop to the pillow. "Sorry," Blair rasped, his breath puffing condensed air against the plastic of the mask. "I was going to phone. I just didn't know what to do. I still don't." He looked back at Jim, his brow furrowing. "I meant what I said. I'm not sure I'm ready to take on this responsibility."

"Would it make a difference if I told you the photos and negatives have been destroyed?"

Blair eyes widened and he gasped, then choked as a coughing fit ambushed his words. Jim reacted immediately, slipping an arm around his shoulders to lift him into a semi-reclining position and stroked a firm hand down the spasming back. When the coughing subsided, he held a glass of water to Blair's cracked lips and encouraged him to swallow a few sips.

"How did you know?" Blair finally asked.

"I'm a cop, and a sentinel, Sandburg," Jim replied dryly. "It's what I do." He sighed and stared out the window, absently brushing Blair's hair back from his forehead. "I went to your office, found the photo. Put two and two together, and came up with one pissed-off father."

"What… what did he say?" Blair whispered.

"Tried to defend himself, of course. Tried to tell me he did it for Liam… and me. I got the negatives and destroyed them, then tracked you down."

"Marcus."

"Guilty as charged." A shame-faced Brother Marcus appeared in the doorway of the hospital room, dressed once more in his monk's garb. "To be precise, it was Jackie Kozinsky. I'm sorry, Blair, I care too much about you to see anything happen to you."

Blair smiled. "You did the right thing, Brother Marcus. It was crazy of me to go off like that, no explanation or anything."

"You can say that again." Jim gave his lover the lightest of cuffs to his matted curls.

"Can we come in?" Marcus asked.

"We?" Blair smiled nervously when Simon poked his head over Marcus' shoulder and then held up a squirming Liam.

"Da!" Liam squealed.

"I phoned Sarah," Simon said as he carried the baby into the room. "She insisted on bringing him over. Seems this little guy has been fretting for his fathers. And," he grinned as he set Liam on the floor; "he has a party trick for you."

The men's faces creased into wide smiles as the little boy took three shaky steps toward them before plopping onto his diapered bottom.

"Looks like we're going to have to get the loft toddler-proofed sooner than we thought, Chief." Jim scooped up the giggling child with practiced ease and lowered himself to the chair once more. He was puzzled when Blair frowned and looked down at the bedcovers. "Blair? What's wrong?"

"We… I can't do this to you," Blair said so softly that Jim doubted anyone but he heard the words.

Marcus squeezed Jim's shoulder. "Brother Simon and I will wait outside. Let you all have some time together."

Jim nodded absently, his attention on Blair. "Thanks, Marcus. I'll be out shortly." He waited until the door was closed, and when Liam reached out an inquisitive, chubby hand for Blair's oxygen mask, pulled his keys from his pocket and dangled them in front of the boy. Satisfied that Liam was occupied, he reached out and took Blair's hand. "Blair?"

Blair sighed. "The photos might have been faked, but there's more to it than that. He… he threatened my mom."

"My father has a strong streak of self-survival," Jim replied, ashamed at the words. "He gave us the name of the man who phoned you, and he's talking with his attorney now, working on a deal. Naomi's safe."

"I'm sorry," Blair said. "About your dad. I knew he didn't like me, I guess I just didn't realize how much."

Jim leaned forward in the chair, absently stroking over Liam's fuzzy skull. "This wasn't about liking you or not, Sandburg. This was about my father needing to control everything his sons do. I thought he'd given up on me long ago. Then we got a little closer after Aaron Foster tried to kill him, but even after that, he was always after me, to quit the force, join the business. Nothing I did was ever enough, and when he couldn't control me, he wanted to be able to do the same thing with his grandson."

Blair sighed. "What about the court case?"

"What about it?"

"Once everyone knows about us, we'll lose him, Jim. It's best if you apply for custody on your own. I couldn't live with the thought of you losing him. I'll move out, get a place nearby..."

"I thought we discussed this. I told you, Stephen and Kate wanted us both to care for Liam, and that's the way it's going to be."

Blair turned sorrowful eyes toward him. "What if we lose?"

Jim shook his head firmly. "We won't."

~o0o~

TWO WEEKS LATER:

The court case had been harrowing on Blair who was still recovering from his bout of pneumonia. The illness and stress had left him weak and he tired easily, once again leaving Jim with the major care for Liam.

Jim, concerned for Blair's health, was relieved that the ugly incident with his father was essentially over. Blair had refused to press charges against William and Jim wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.

He was pleased that there was now one less secret for them to keep. He worried still over the backlash they might receive from other officers at the precinct. Blair had been considered by some as an interloper who had no place in Major Crime or the police department at all, for that matter, and Jim had been aware of malicious words muttered about their relationship long before rumor became truth.

He knew too, that Blair had weathered the derogatory looks and curses, had faced down serial killers and withstood crime scenes that made the strongest stomachs heave, and that in this, as before, they both had the support and love of their friends.

Besides the sacrifices were worth it, Jim decided, watching Liam take exploratory, wobbly steps around the living room. He grinned when Blair's voice floated down from the upstairs bedroom.

"Uh, Jim? Do you suppose Simon is going to mind that the report you were working on last night now has an abstract rendering of you on it in crayon?" A pause. "Actually, it's pretty good for a not quite one year old."

~o0o~

William Ellison had appeared at court long enough to give his statement that he still did not consider Jim or Blair to be fit parents for his grandson. When pressed however, he refused to give a reason. When Jim's attorney asked if it was because he believed the two men were lovers, William's lips pressed together in a tight line and he shook his head.

"I have my reasons, and I believe them to be sound," he whispered fiercely, glaring at Blair.

He did not look at Jim the entire time he was on the stand, and had offered no gratitude that he was not facing criminal charges. He walked past Jim and Blair at the close of his testimony, white-faced and grim, and did not return.

The judge was a kind middle-aged man who asked that Liam be brought into court before he made his deliberations. Liam played up to the attention like a trouper, beguiling the judge and his court staff instantly with his infectious smile and cute baby chatter. He clung tenaciously though to Jim or Blair for the entire session, refusing to be handed over to Sarah or anyone else.

Jim had taken the baby outside to toddle on the grass during the recess when he got the message that a decision had been made. Scooping Liam up into his arms, he hurried back upstairs and met a pacing, pale-looking Blair in the corridor. Ushered into the courtroom, Jim looked around gratefully at the friends who had gathered to support them. Brother Marcus patted the large cross around his neck, while Megan Connor gave them a jaunty thumbs-up.

The judge settled himself, then spoke. "This has not been an easy decision for me to make," he began, and Jim's hopes plummeted. He fumbled for Blair's hand and squeezed it tightly. "My decision must be based solely on the best interests of the child, Liam James Ellison. I have not been presented with any evidence that would lead me to believe that this child's interests would be better served, if he were in the custody of anyone other than James Joseph Ellison and Blair Jacob Sandburg." He paused expectantly. The silence was deafening.

"Does that mean he's ours?" Blair asked, nudging Jim.

The judge smiled broadly. "Take your son and go home, gentlemen. Congratulations."

The courtroom erupted with a series of cheers and a loud wolf-whistle from Megan. Jim and Blair endured the hearty backslaps and handshaking, both grinning with relief.

"Well, Jim, I think this calls for a celebration," Joel Taggart said as he took Liam from his friend's arms and gently tossed the giggling little boy into the air.

Jim dragged his attention away from Liam to look at Blair, who had stepped away and sat now at the attorney's table, looking happy, but drawn with fatigue. "Actually, Joel, can we take a rain-check? I think I want to take my family home."

"Home!" Liam announced decisively, reaching for Jim, and wrapping his arms about his neck. His large blue eyes searched the happy crowd. "Da!" he called, smiling at Blair. "Home!"

~o0o~

"Full Circle"

Another phone-call in the middle of the night. Jim shuddered as he picked up the receiver. He shushed Blair softly as the younger man muttered in his sleep and rolled over to face him. Turning back to the call, he identified himself. "Ellison."

"Detective Ellison. This is Doctor Davis at Cascade General Hospital. I'm sorry to have to inform you that your father, William Ellison was admitted earlier today after suffering a stroke. His condition is critical."

"When did this happen?" Jim was aware of Blair sitting up in the bed, a warm hand coming to rest on his shoulder.

"Around ten a.m. this morning."

"And you're just telling me now?" Jim swore under his breath and stood to pull on his boxers, but the doctor's next words froze him in his tracks.

"Though Mr. Ellison's speech is severely compromised, he asked that you not be contacted. However, his condition is deteriorating and legally we need to speak to next-of-kin. There are certain formalities…"

"I'm on my way." Jim hung up the phone without waiting for a reply and reached for his pants.

"Jim?"

"It's my Dad. He had a stroke."

"I'll get dressed and phone Sarah."

"No." Jim turned at the foot of the stairs and steeled himself against the disappointment he could see on Blair's face. "I don't… You don't need to do that. Liam's sleeping. I don't want to wake him. Go back to bed," he finished lamely. Hurrying down the stairs, he found his keys and cell phone and ran out the door.

~o0o~

Sally, her face white and tear-streaked, met him at the door to the ICU. Jim enfolded her in his arms and allowed her to give vent to her sorrow. Finally, she sniffed and raised her head to look at him.

"I know what he did was a bad thing, Jimmy, but I truly believe he did it for what he thought were the right reasons. He loves you and Liam so much, and I know he's sorry for what happened."

Jim clenched his jaw tightly at her words. Pushing her away gently, he led her to a chair and sat her down. "I need to see the doctor. I'll be right back."

Sally nodded, but grasped his hand as he straightened and turned to walk away. "Go see him, Jim, please. He's dying, he needs his son."

Jim shook his head, then seeing the pleading look on Sally's face, relented. "I'll talk to the doctor first."

~o0o~

Jim was shocked by his father's appearance. Gone was the proud, angry man he'd seen stalk past him in the courthouse just a few weeks before. In his place lay a cadaverous form, pale skin stretched tightly over a skeletal frame.

Jim approached the bed slowly, suddenly afraid of facing this reality. William's face was turned toward him, but Jim wasn't sure he could see much of anything. His eyes had a glassy, opaque look to them and his face remained blank when Jim lowered himself to the chair at the bedside.

The doctor had told Jim his father was paralyzed on the right side, so Jim reached out for William's left hand and squeezed it gently. "Hey, Dad. I know you told the doctor that you didn't want to see me, but I had to come. I hate what you tried to do to Blair and me and to Liam. I never thought you would go to the lengths you did, and I wish you could have been happy that Liam had a good home with Blair and me. We love him, Dad. I'm sorry that you felt I disappointed you so often in my life."

William gave no indication that he'd heard a word of Jim's painful speech. Jim heard the door whoosh open quietly behind him and wiped roughly at his wet cheeks. He knew without turning around that it was Blair.

"I told you not to come," Jim whispered harshly, regretting the words the moment they left his mouth.

Blair's hand rested for a moment on his shoulder then a sleepy baby was laid on his lap. Blair's lips pressed against Jim's forehead and then he stepped away. "I know you didn't want me here, but he's your dad, and Liam's grandfather. I think you both need this time with him. I'm going to be right outside."

"Thank you." Jim stood, lifting his adopted son in his arms, gently kissing the top of the baby's tousled hair. "Hey, Liam, this here is your grandpa."

Gently he sat the little boy on the edge of William's bed, taking care that his curious fingers didn't tangle tubing or monitors. William's left hand lifted and rested on Liam's head, the fingers curving to caress the baby's scalp. William looked at his son, and Jim saw a little of the mental confusion lift from his father's eyes. He wasn't able to speak, but Jim felt certain he saw love and perhaps an apology telegraphed in the man's gaze.

~o0o~

Jim left William's room and handed a now-sleeping Liam over to Blair. Giving his lover a kiss, uncaring of who saw them, he motioned back to the room. "I'm going to stay, for a while anyway. Is that all right with you?"

"Of course. I'll get this little tyke to bed." Blair turned and headed for the exit.

"Blair?" Jim waited until his lover turned back to him. "I love you."

Blair smiled. "Ditto."

~o0o~

More loss, more pain. Jim felt weighted down with it, felt it dragging at his body, hunching his shoulders and bowing his head. He wearily climbed the stairs to bed, absently noting dawn beginning to lighten the sky outside the balcony windows.

He stripped off his clothes and slipped beneath the cool sheets, gratified when Blair turned and opened his arms, welcoming him into his protective embrace.

"You okay?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, you know. Tired." A sob was wrenched from his tight throat, and he couldn't hold it back. "He died," Jim whispered in a strangled voice. "My dad died."

Blair said nothing, but tightened his hold. They lay together for a long time, Jim taking strength and solace from Blair's presence. "I'm sorry," Blair finally said.

Jim felt mute, a great lump in his throat refusing to allow him to answer, his body shaking with the effort to stay in control and not give in. Finally, the floodgates opened and Jim allowed himself to mourn. Blair murmured hushed assurances until Jim's grief was spent. He felt Blair shift; turning them so that he was above Jim, straddling his naked body.

Blair leaned forward and kissed him, gently pressing open Jim's lips to stroke against his tongue. Ghosting his palms over Jim's chest, he whispered, "Let me love you, Jim."

In the semi-darkness of the loft, Blair smiled and shifted down the bed to take Jim into the warm, wet cavern of his mouth. Jim moaned as his lover took him from the depths of despair to the heights of passion, and as his orgasm seized him, he cried out Blair's name.

In the afterglow, Jim lay exhausted. Blair's body was a warm and welcome weight blanketing him. Downstairs, a baby gurgled softly to himself; giggling and rattling the toys attached to his crib.

~o0o~

Blair leaned against the hood of the Explorer and watched Jim's solitary figure standing ramrod straight beside William Ellison's gravesite. Everyone else was long gone and a light rain had begun to drizzle from a dark, forbidding sky.

"Blair?"

Blair turned at the call and saw Don Porter walking toward him, his black suit protected by a large umbrella. He saw Jim turn and knew the sentinel had heard the attorney's arrival.

"Hi, Don." Blair shook the man's hand and together they waited until Jim joined them.

"What's up, Don?" Jim crossed his arms over his chest while his lawyer nervously shuffled the folder in his hand.

"It's about the will… your father's estate."

Jim nodded. "Go on."

Don blew out a breath. "I'm afraid there have been no provisions made for either you or Liam in your father's will. Of course, it was prepared before William suffered his stroke, so we could appeal it, and there's a… caveat."

"I bet I know what that is," Blair muttered.

Don glanced apologetically at him. "If Mr. Sandburg were to…"

"Enough!" Jim's voice was a growl of discontent. "We don't need to hear it because it's not going to happen." He wrapped his arm about Blair's shoulders and pulled him closer.

"Would you like me to draw up an appeal?"

"No," both men replied together. Blair smiled at Jim and indicated for him to continue.

"My father ensured that Sally was taken care of, I hope?"

Don nodded enthusiastically. "Most generously, in fact. The rest has gone to various charities."

"Then it's better this way," Jim said. "I have a new life, and a new family. Now, if you'll excuse us, Don, I'd like to take my partner and my son out for lunch."

Blair saw a too rare smile grace Jim's face, chasing away the lines of fatigue and tension. He felt his mood lift with the knowledge that their new life was just beginning. As he climbed into the passenger seat, Blair sent a silent vow to Steven and Kate, promising them that their son would be loved, cherished and protected for all time.

FIN

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