We are family
FEEDBACK TO: firstname.lastname@example.org
AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com
CATEGORY: Drama, Smarm, H/C.
RATING: (M) for Adult themes and Language.
THANKS TO: Patt for the story outline, Mary, my beta extraordinaire, the gang at MME who gave me so much support last year whenever times got tough, and my sis, Annie who gave this gen version the once over.
I know nothing about child custody laws, though after our experiences last year with our granddaughter's father, I'm learning pretty quickly. Thanks so much to Dawn for her detailed advice and to everyone else who was kind enough to reply. I've gone along with the original ending to this story, simply because I had no idea what else to do otherwise. <g>
DEDICATED TO: My mum (6.4.14 - 12.26.02), and all of our parents, and to Sage, the sunshine of my life.
WARNINGS: Mention of adult themes. Deaths of two minor TS characters.
MAJOR WARNING: KID FIC!
"We are family."
Blair muttered a muffled curse into his pillow as the phone rang, relieved when he heard Jim patter down the stairs to take the call. He squinted at the illuminated face of his alarm clock and moaned. Six A.M; that could only mean bad news or a case. He waited as he heard Jim pick up the phone and identify himself, unwilling to return to sleep if something important was happening.
"Ellison. Steven? What's wrong?"
Blair was instantly awake at the mention of Jim's brother's name. He sat up in 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, and insisted on keeping the thermostat dialed to just above freezing, or at least that's what it felt like to Blair. He frowned now as Jim's voice grew serious, his tone muted slightly.
Blair climbed out of bed and wrapped himself in his old robe, then padded out to stand in the living room. Steven's wife, Kate was pregnant, and due to give birth any day. Blair hoped this was good news.
"What? That's great! No problem, we'll be there in twenty minutes. Bye." Jim stood and turned to face his sleepy partner. "Get dressed, Chief. We're going to the hospital."
Jim laughed as he gave Blair a thumbs up then turned and trotted up the stairs. "Everything's fine. Kate had the baby."
"Oh, wow! That's great, Jim. Or should I say Uncle Jim?" Blair turned back to his bedroom, then stood flat-footed. "What should I wear?"
Jim snorted and tossed his dressing gown over the railing at him. "It's a hospital, Sandburg, not a fashion show. Get your clothes on."
"But your dad might be there. I want to make a good impression."
Jim just rolled his eyes and turned away. "If you're not ready in ten minutes, I'm leaving without you."
"What did she have?" Blair called up as he switched on his light and reached for his jeans. He pulled a T-shirt from a pile on the floor and pulled it over his head, followed by a warm knit sweater and his usual flannel jacket.
There was a moment's silence before Jim replied with a chuckle. "I forgot to ask."
Ten minutes later, they were in the truck on their way to the hospital. Rain beat a steady tattoo 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?"
"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. "Do you?"
"Think about having kids."
"Doesn't everyone? What, you haven't?" Jim 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 smiled, 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. I wonder sometimes if time's running out."
Jim grinned. "Your biological clock ticking, Sandburg?"
"No!" Blair shifted back to face the front, his movement abrupt and impatient. "I just mean you have to be young enough to enjoy your kids."
"I know what you mean, Chief," Jim replied, his tone apologetic. "There was a time I thought Carolyn and I might start thinking about having a family, but she was so focused on her career, and these days, I have to admit I'm a little nervous, wondering if these senses of mine might be passed on. I don't know if I want a child of mine weighed down with them."
"They're a gift," Blair said, glancing at his partner, "when you know how to use them."
"When you have a guide, who knows how to teach you to use them," Jim answered, patting his partner on the shoulder. "And at the moment, there's only one with all the right qualifications that I know of."
"For now. Maybe one day, if I ever get my dissertation published " Blair's voice trailed off, unwilling to take the still sensitive subject further.
"Yeah." Jim reached out and tousled Blair's curls. "Now, can we go upstairs and see my nephew?"
Blair opened his door and climbed out into the chilly night, walking close to Jim to help 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."
They were still arguing whether you could really tell the sex of an unborn child by its heart rate 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 it open 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 and Jim and Steven's surrogate mother, followed him in, clutching an enormous bunch of red roses that almost dwarfed her petite figure. She bumped into her employer as he came to a sudden stop.
Blair felt the older man's gaze rake over him, and he was sure the atmosphere in the room dropped 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," Jim retorted.
Blair crossed quickly to Jim's side and placed a hand on his arm as William opened his mouth to reply. "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 a name is Liam?"
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, then he followed his partner into the building. Jim's jaw twitched madly while 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 for me not to 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. "Just because we share an apartment is no reason to think that."
Blair groaned. "He doesn't understand the guide thing. I guess, to anyone looking in, when you see how much time we spend together, how close we are, it's kind of understandable."
Jim put the milk back and came out of the kitchen, heading for the stairs to his bedroom. "What if we were sleeping together?" he threw over his shoulder. "Are you saying that it's okay to hate gays?"
Blair pushed away from the door, his eyes widening. "No! Of course not. I'm just saying I understand that he's uncomfortable with the situation."
"Doesn't seem to bother anyone else, except for a few idiots at the PD," Jim replied, "and I learned a long time ago not to listen to any of their crap. If I had, I would have pensioned myself off years ago, when I first got these senses and everyone thought I was losing it."
Blair frowned. "I guess I've seen the looks, picked up a few whispers. I've never let it bother me because I knew it wasn't true, and I know some of them think I shouldn't be riding along with you all this time. I figured it was just them not liking the idea of a civilian being in on all the cop stuff." He shrugged. "They don't understand, but then again, they don't know about your senses."
"You going to have a shower?" Jim asked, dismissing the conversation. Blair recognized it for the familiar Ellison evasive tactic it was.
"What? Oh, yeah." Blair turned thoughts over in his head as he headed for his own room. "Jim?"
Jim paused and turned back to him.
"What if someone did try to make something of it? I never really thought about it. I guess I should have but ."
"Then we'll deal with it," Jim said. He frowned. "No one's giving you a hard time, are they?"
Blair waved a hand in denial. "No, not really. The odd sarcastic remark, nothing I can't handle, but, if rumors got started, it could really hurt your career. I can appreciate why your dad might be worried about something like that. He's an influential man in Cascade."
"If even a whisper of something like his son being gay started circulating, you can guarantee my father would find the ways and means to stop it, Chief. He kept the sentinel stuff a secret all my life."
Blair shook his head slowly. "This is different. Your family I don't know if I could handle never speaking to my mom."
"The Ellison's are a family of secrets, Sandburg." Jim shrugged nonchalantly, but his eyes flashed ice. "My father's an expert at covering things up." He yawned. "Have a shower, huh, and leave me some hot water? I've got to be at the station early."
"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's voice trailed 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 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." Jim gave Blair a frown, and Blair knew what he was about to say. Jim picked up his drink and took a sip.
"That Dad thinks you and Blair are lovers?" Steven said it so casually Jim almost choked on his beer.
"He's spoken to you?" Jim leaned forward, his eyes narrowing. "What did he say?"
"Easy, big guy." Blair rested his hand on Jim's arm, until he felt the tense muscles relax.
"Nothing I haven't heard before," Steven assured his brother. "Our father is an uptight snob, Jim, who's terrified that if word gets out that his son is sharing an apartment with another man, his own image will be tarnished by association."
"We, on the other hand, could care less," Kate interrupted. "Even if you were gay, it has no bearing on the matter at hand. It's the relationship you have that cemented the decision for us," she continued. "You and Blair care for 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 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."
The apartment was almost silent as dawn neared but neither man was sleeping. Blair finally tired of listening to Jim pace in the living room, and threw off his bedcovers, slipping on sweatpants before walking out of his bedroom. "You want to talk about what's bothering you?" he asked.
Jim turned from his contemplation of the world outside the balcony doors. "I'm just worried my dad's going to make a big thing about Steven and Kate choosing us over him."
"You mean choosing me." To Blair's surprise, Jim didn't protest.
"Yeah," he sighed. "I hate how he looks at you, like you're something he doesn't want to be bothered with, like you're someone I dragged in off the street "
"Well, you did, sorta." Blair smiled apologetically when Jim spun on his heel and frowned. "Look " He started again, raking a hand through his hair as he tried to find the right words to say; to show Jim he wasn't hurt by William Ellison's overt dislike of him, even though deep down, a small part of him hated it. "He's your dad, he's concerned for you." He rolled his eyes. "Probably thinks I'm after the Ellison millions." He grinned when Jim snorted.
"Get in line, Chief."
"All I'm saying," Blair said, sobering again, "is that I could care less what your dad thinks of me. As long as you know why I'm here, that's all that matters. We're partners, right?" He waited for Jim to nod. "Right, and we help each other out. If your dad can't deal with that, fine, and if you don't want to see him, because of the way he is, that's fine too, but don't make it because of me. Steven and Kate had to know what they were getting into before naming us as Liam's guardians. They don't seem worried by it."
Jim studied him for a long moment. "It truly doesn't bother you what my father thinks of you?"
Blair blew out an exasperated sigh. "Well, of course it bothers me. I like to think my good looks and personality win over everyone I meet." His smile faded when Jim remained serious. "I've been treated much worse because of my name, my hair, my mother's unmarried status, my height. I can handle it. I just want you to think about talking to your dad before you throw this relationship away. Family's important, man."
"So is friendship," Jim replied. He nodded all the same. "All right. If you think it will help, I'll talk to dad after the christening."
"Anyway," Blair continued. "I'm more worried about this guardianship deal. I mean, do we have to do stuff?"
Blair waved a hand in the air. "I don't know. Take him to basketball games, go watch him graduate?"
A smile twitched the corners of Jim's mouth. "I guess we do."
"Nice." Blair nodded, making the decision for them both, knowing Jim would accept it. "Call Steven tomorrow and tell him to draw up the paperwork."
"Yes, sir." Jim sketched a sloppy salute. "Now, do you think we might get some sleep? I've got an early start in the morning."
Blair rolled his eyes, allowing a relieved grin to ease the tension on his face. "Good night, Jim."
"Night, Sandburg. Thanks."
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 out of the bathroom, 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. Placing his arms over Blair's shoulders, he 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 gave Blair's ponytail a gentle pull. "You looked like a geek."
"Hey!" Blair pulled away from him and reached around to swat the back of Jim's head before rearranging his leather band. 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."
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, and protect him forever as long as Blair woke up.
He'd kept those vows, telling Blair of his feelings of confusion and desperation over Alex while they recuperated in Mexico. They'd taken the steps back to friendship slowly, both still 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 friendship as they did at their working partnership, Jim thought they now 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, speaking in 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 adequately, 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.
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.
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 snorted 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 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. "Unnatural," he muttered.
The day was declared a huge success, even though Liam vomited down the front of the Ellison's family christening gown, that had been handed down through the generations, and lovingly restored by Sally Lee.
The Ellison's housekeeper 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. "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 partner'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.
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, his back to it, 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 partner 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 heel 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?"
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."
"Blair, leave him be for a while, son." Simon's hand came to rest 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."
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 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.
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 down Jim's arm. "Can I get you anything? Some tea, maybe a whiskey? 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. Pushing himself off the bed and 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, making his way down, 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.
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 under 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 back.
Blair wrapped his arms around Jim, holding tightly, and taking comfort from his partner's hug. "I won't," he vowed. "I won't."
A half-hour later, more relaxed, and with Blair blissfully warm after a 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."
"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, wrapping an arm around his friend's shoulders. "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 his room. "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."
Jim spoke again as Blair disappeared into his room. "You got any idea what things we're going to need for this baby?"
"None whatsoever," Blair admitted, continuing to undress and climb into bed as he replied, knowing Jim could hear him. "But all his stuff would still be at the house. Your room's big enough for his crib for now. I'll phone Naomi tomorrow. I know she'd want to know. She can help with the finer details, and Sally."
"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." Blair stared up at the ceiling, finally allowing his grief full-rein. He sniffed and forced his voice to steady, trying to reassure himself as much as Jim. "We're gonna be fine."
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, at 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. What's on your mind, Don?" Jim stood next to Blair, 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."
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?"
"Psychiatric evaluations wouldn't go astray, nor would character references from friends, work-mates, your boss."
"One more thing, and you can choose to answer or not, but how we handle this may well hinge on your reply, Jim."
"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 wore a thunderous expression. "Not that it's anybody's business but Sandburg's and mine, but no, we're not."
Porter took a moment to think before he spoke again. "If there's any reason to believe the child may be in moral danger, then the courts have a right to know." He sat forward, steepling his hands on the desk in front of him and regarded them both soberly. "The fact that you live together, have done so for some four years may cause some to doubt the veracity of your reply. 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, gay or not, 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 laissez-faire than the police force. Even if some people there thought we were gay, it wouldn't cause a stir." 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."
They stood at the top of the stairs leading to Jim's bedroom, 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 and rested his back against the wall. "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 get some sleep. God knows what time the little tyke will wake up." Jim turned Blair around and pointed down the stairs.
Blair paused. "What if he does wake up? Are you going to be okay with him up here?" He looked thoughtful. "Maybe we should have left him in my room. I could sleep on the couch. With your hearing, you'll probably hear every breath "
Jim rolled his eyes. "I think I'll cope, Chief. Besides, I kind of like the idea of having my godson up here with me. And if I don't think I can handle things, I'll give you a call."
Blair didn't look convinced. "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 down the stairs, shaking his head. "Blair Sandburg with a baby. Who'd a thunk?"
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 keenly. 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 Jim took most of the night shifts. Jim was also usually up before Blair in the mornings, so he fed Liam before Sarah arrived, then Blair took over from Sarah when he arrived home from Rainier. 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 social lives 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 put long nights of passion on the backburner. Blair never had any doubt that relationships could wait, and having Liam in their lives had brought the unexpected bonus of cooing, besotted young women from both the university and the PD, eager to see the new arrival.
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 decorate Liam's side of the bedroom, and they had even discussed ways of extending the apartment, perhaps even buying the one next door, so they could extend their living quarters as the baby grew. Jim had even pulled a few of his sporting mementos out of storage, setting them up on Blair's old bookcase in the loft. 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.
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.
"Purse snatchers, Chief. Two of them."
Blair set off after his partner. They 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.
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 downstairs from Liam and Jim'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 partner had already stalked away, padding quietly up the stairs.
"Blair? Come here." There was no anger in the tone, just a whispered gentleness.
Blair pulled himself up and limped up 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 down 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 upstairs.
A bleary eye opened as lusty cries of anguish floated down 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!"
Throwing off the bedclothes, he hurried up the stairs, still favoring his sore ankle. "I'm late!" he announced to the lump in Jim's bed, grimacing at the pain in his throat. "We're late."
Blair ignored the muffled response and went to Liam's crib, scooping up the sobbing baby.
"Da," Liam snuffled miserably against Blair's chest.
"Yeah, I know," Blair commiserated. "You're wet and hungry, huh? How come you didn't hear him?" he asked Jim.
Looking sheepish, Jim removed a pair of earplugs from his ears. "Sorry," he said around a yawn. "Force of habit."
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 sat up and pulled himself out of the bed with a groan. "He all right?"
Blair hefted the naked, squirming child and hurried down the stairs. "Better than we'll be if we're late again this morning. Here," he thrust Liam at Jim as the detective followed him down. "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 rushed to his room, 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 and headed for the stairs. "Where the heck is Sarah? Simon is gonna be so pissed."
Jim's head appeared over the railing. "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.
"Hey, not in front of the baby."
"Right. Sorry. Sorry, Liam." Blair made his way back up the stairs to Jim's room. "What are we gonna do, man? Look at this place, look at us!" He pointed at the distinctive bruise and gash 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. He held out his hands. "Here, I'll throw some clothes on him and stall her while you 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 pulled open his dresser drawer. "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 the baby'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 turned back to her, waving 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 partner 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 them, 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."
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 partner and tickled his ribs. "I think it's cute."
"I think we passed with flying colors." Jim turned and gave Blair a light swat to his head which the other man attempted to duck, chuckling. "I think she might have been a little nervous about the gay question but once she saw the separate bedrooms, and the fact we didn't have horns and tails, she relaxed. I think she was happier when I told her we were looking for a new place, so Liam can have his own room. Actually I thought she was pretty nice."
Blair walked over and stood in front of Liam, looking down at the little boy. "Do you think it'll be that easy? It only takes one lie, one wrong word, some kind of misinformation and we could lose him."
"We've weathered rumors and comments at the station before now, Blair. We'll do it again. 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.
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 couple of weeks 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 some of Jim's favorite foods, ignoring the niggling voice inside him that cautioned about fatty arteries. Despite his liking for an occasional Wonderburger, Blair had to admit that Jim ate healthily most of the time and even Blair himself wasn't averse to a delicious creamy pasta sauce or a stick of garlic bread. Walking back into the living room after putting the leftovers into the refrigerator, he found Jim seated on the couch, his head back against the cushions, and his eyes closed. Thinking his friend was asleep Blair tiptoed around him and made his way toward his bedroom, until Jim's voice called to him.
"Want to watch a game on the tube?"
Blair grinned. "Are you kidding? I am so tired of Sesame Street, man."
"Thought you liked Big Bird," Jim said as Blair settled beside him and reached for the remote.
"The bird has his place," Blair admitted. "Just not when there's a really good special on the Discovery Channel or when the Jags have half a chance of winning a game."
Jim gave him a high five then settled back to watch the game. Halfway through the second period, they were both almost asleep. Blair lolled against Jim, his eyes barely open.
"Uh, Chief?" Jim gave his partner a not too gentle nudge. "You want to crash before you drool on my shirt?"
Blair straightened in his seat and stared at his partner through sleep-dulled eyes. "I'm awake!" he declared.
"I'm not," Jim confessed. "I'm going to bed. You want to turn off the TV when you're done?"
"Actually," Blair said as he stood up, "I am a little tired. Think I'll go to bed too. It's been a good night though."
"It has indeed," Jim smiled. "And we still have another day before Hurricane Liam returns. What do you want to do?"
Blair thought for a moment. "There's a market in Holden Park. It's Naomi's birthday next week."
"Done," Jim agreed. "Just as long as we don't need to be there before 11. I feel a weekend sleep-in coming on."
Blair nodded his agreement. "I'll even cook you breakfast."
Jim gave him a silly grin. "What would I do without you, Chief?" he asked as he headed for the stairs.
Blair waited until he was safely in his room before giving his reply. "Starve?"
They spent Sunday cruising around the bustling outdoor markets nearby, stopping for lunch at Blair's favorite Greek restaurant, and finished their weekend of freedom arguing over what movie to watch, finally agreeing to see a new movie at the local cinema.
Getting up early on Monday morning, Blair discovered, though his flu remained, 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 Jim and Liam.
The custody 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 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 one of Jim's hands, while the other rested on Blair's shoulder. Blair held a smiling Liam on his hip. Blair remembered the occasion clearly. Jim had gone to an overnight conference the week before. "What the hell ?"
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."
"We're not gay, damn it!" Blair shouted.
"That's not really the point, is it? Two men living together for four years. The assumption is there."
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 either you or Detective Ellison. I am simply doing what I have been paid to do. Come now, Mr. Sandburg, those photos show two men who care deeply for each other. If you truly care for Detective Ellison and Liam, I think you'd want to do the right thing."
"There's nothing in these photos that show anything more than two friends."
"Then you obviously have not seen the final photo," the man said.
With shaking hands, Blair 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 Blair Sandburg stood just inside the bathroom door, his towel slung casually over his shoulder. Jim stood with his back to the camera, in the living room of the loft. From the angle the shot had been taken, it looked as though Jim was ogling his partner.
"This is a set-up," Blair said. "How the heck did you get that shot? There was nothing in that. I was taking a shower, Jim called to me We were joking around " He was aware that he was babbling now, providing the man with excuses for what had been an innocent incident. Jim had asked him to leave some hot water, jokingly pulling the towel from around Blair's waist and Blair had flipped him the finger before grabbing the towel and swiftly closing the door. It wasn't as if they'd never seen each other naked before. Living in the same apartment, working together, hell, the police showers, the gym, and he suddenly realized just how easily it could be used against them. He shut his mouth with an audible snap.
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. "Im 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.
He drove around Cascade for hours, not arriving back at the loft until after nine P.M. 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, and confide all, Blair clutched the secret to him and wearily entered the apartment building. The risk to himself and Jim, he knew they could handle but it was his concern for Naomi's safety that now silenced him. If they didn't catch the man, and God knows, he had no information to give them, apart from the vague description from the harried secretary who'd taken the package without a second glance, there was no telling what could happen.
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. Hands came from behind and rested on his shoulders, massaging lightly, and where normally Blair would have welcomed the comforting gesture, he stiffened, his eyes darting nervously to the view outside.
"Where have you been?" Jim asked. "You look exhausted."
"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. 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, uncomfortably 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 partner'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 that great 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. "Don't get too close, man. I don't want you catching it."
"If I was going to catch it, Sandburg, I already have. We share an apartment, remember?" Jim stepped closer, forcing Blair to back away. "It's early yet. You want to watch the end of the game with me?"
Blair shook his head and set his cup on the coffee table, but his hand shook so much, liquid sloshed over the sides.
Jim frowned. "What's wrong with you tonight, Sandburg?"
"Nothing." Blair felt his eyes being drawn back to the balcony doors. "Geez, Jim, just because I came home late doesn't give you the right to give me the third degree!"
"I'm worried about you, that's all." Jim's voice was frosty. "Excuse me for caring!"
The silence in the loft was deafening.
"Jim, I'm sorry." Blair took a step toward his partner, 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."
Blair didn't bother going to bed. He prowled the apartment until the first hints of dawn lightened the loft. He crept upstairs to Jim'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 Jim's bed, desperate to wake him 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 six AM 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.
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 loft 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 living here, or 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.
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 only hard evidence he had was a handful of photos, genuine and for the most part, innocent enough, that would only seem to prove to the Cascade PD, that the whispered rumors and dirty jokes were true after all. 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, in time for her birthday. 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.
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 commented. 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."
"Go find your partner."
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 both his fathers."
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 wondering where Blair was, and every glance at the baby reminded him that his guide was missing from his side. As the days passed, Jim's control on his senses seem to slip, though whether it was because of Blair's absence or Jim's fatigue, he wasn't sure. 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."
"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.
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 half-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 up the abhorrent item 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 Carolyn had given him on their first anniversary, Jim tossed it to the floor and ground it savagely under his boot. "Son of a bitch!"
"You did what?" William Ellison stared in shock at Emily Cassidy. The young woman sat on the opposite side of his desk, her hands in her lap as she nervously twisted the wedding ring on her finger.
"I thought it was what you wanted," Emily replied with a defiant tilt of her chin. "You said you needed evidence. I got it. I did it for you and the child."
"Illegally," William said. He sat down heavily in his chair and stared at the roll of film in front of him. "Evidence, you say?"
Emily nodded, and a smile quirked her lips. "Most of them are fairly tame, but the last one leaves no doubt ."
"My son is not gay!" William thundered. "And even if he were, he wouldn't be having a relationship with this this man."
"All that's important is that you have a good chance of getting your grandson back where he belongs."
"And what do you get out of it?" William asked shrewdly as he stood and walked over to the safe. He dialed the combination and deposited the film inside before turning to stare at Emily.
"I'd like to think I'd get some benefit from helping you out," Emily began. "Sandburg has left after certain choices were given to him. Surely I deserve some recompense for that."
"Blackmail too," William spat. "I never thought you'd sink that low, Emily."
"Isn't that what you had in mind?"
"No!" William seated himself back at his desk and rested his head in his hands. "I thought if I could prove to Jim just how worthless Sandburg was, he'd see the error in having him there. I want to keep my son and my grandchild."
"This way you will," Emily replied with satisfaction.
With a trembling hand, William reached out and picked up the phone receiver, punching in a number. "Detective Ellison. This is his father, William." He glared at Emily as she rose from her chair, her face paling. "Sit down!" he ordered. "You're not going anywhere."
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, not surprised to see Kate's friend, Emily sitting with her back to the door. Stopping, he 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 and slowly hung up the phone. 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, but I never meant for it to go this far. Emily decided to take matters into her own hands. I was just trying to phone 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. "Is he gone?"
Jim's voice was a menacing growl. "You know damn well he is."
"Then the negatives will be destroyed," Emily said calmly.
"Don't be a fool, Emily," William countered.
"What evidence does he have?" Emily's voice dripped sarcasm. "A photo of him and his lover?"
"He's not my lover. Not that it matters." Jim turned and fixed Emily with a deadly glare that she visibly shrank from. "He's my partner, and my best friend, and he doesn't deserve to have his name dragged through the dirt just so you can get your hands on my father's money."
William waved a hand toward the safe. "They're in there. I don't want them."
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 and Emily'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 either of them when he walked to the door.
"I don't condone what Emily did, Jimmy, but I was doing this for you. Regardless of what you might think now, eventually, you'll thank me. 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 keep Liam while you had that man living with you. I was doing 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.
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 care for doesn't do that. He's stronger than that."
"You know then, that he did this to protect you and the child, and his mother."
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.
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.
Jim paced the waiting room with short, choppy steps, silently berating his father and Emily. 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 anger when he told Simon of Blair's reluctance to go to the police with the evidence of Emily's blackmail attempt, 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, all of us! If Blair had come to me, I would have made sure the whole case was handled carefully."
"I'm guessing he felt he didn't have enough to go on, and I think he was trying to protect me and my reputation, as well as Naomi." Jim sighed. "There was talk," he tapped at an ear, "but I knew that was mostly disgruntled cops not liking having someone like Sandburg around, others who assumed that the two of us are such a mismatched pair, if we were sharing an apartment, working as closely as we do "
Simon smiled at that. "The perennial flower-child and the hard-nosed detective of the year." He shook his head. "I have to admit I was one of those who doubted Sandburgs place at the PD, for quite some time and that was with the advantage of knowing about the sentinel thing." He squeezed Jim's shoulder in an apologetic gesture. "What about your father and this woman, Emily Cassidy?"
Jim scrubbed at his face, unwilling to admit to the sadness that was tearing at him. "I don't know, Simon. I definitely want her charged provided we can get enough evidence. My father has agreed to testify. He swears he didn't sanction the threats against Naomi or the photos but the fact that he was attempting to dredge up some kind of dirt on Blair I'm not sure I ever want to see him again."
"Detective Ellison?" called another voice.
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 her 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.
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 partner 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 on Blair's.
Blair's eyes were red-rimmed and heavy, dark circles shadowing them and his beard stubble was 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 patting a firm hand on 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 and a greedy so-called friend of Kate's."
"Emily?" At Jim's nod, he frowned. "What what did your father say?" Blair whispered.
"Tried to defend himself, of course. Tried to tell me he was doing it for Liam and me. That he wasn't aware of what Emily had done."
"So it wasn't your dad?"
Jim grunted. "He had a share in it, I'm just not sure how far he would have gone." He looked at Blair and gave him a reassuring smile. "I got the negatives and destroyed them, then tracked you down."
"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 partner the lightest of cuffs to his unruly 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 go house-hunting 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 leaned toward his partner. "Blair?"
Blair sighed. "The photos might have been destroyed, but there's more to it than that. He he threatened my mom."
"Emily has a strong streak of self-survival," Jim replied, disgust thinning his voice. "She gave us the name of the man who phoned you, and she's talking with her attorney now, working on a deal. Naomi's safe. Though it doesn't excuse his behavior, my father has agreed to testify against Emily."
"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 sat back in the chair, absently stroking over Liam's fine hair. "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. 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 all of this comes out, we could still lose him, Jim. Then there's the rumors people whispering, wondering if it's really true, that we really are together. If anything, all this has taught me just how easily your reputation could be tarnished, and how easily you could lose Liam. 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."
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 of Liam.
Jim, concerned for Blair's health, was relieved that the ugly incident with his father was essentially over. There were no charges laid against William and Jim wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.
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 any of this had begun.
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."
William Ellison had appeared at court long enough to give his statement that he still did not consider Jim or Blair to be fit guardians 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, and I suspect it will not be a popular one amongst my peers," he began, and Jim's hopes plummeted. "My decision must be based solely on the best interests of the child, Liam James Ellison. I have taken into account Detective Ellison's risky job and the unusually long hours he and Mr. Sandburg sometimes work. Of course, a great deal of thought had to be given to Mr. Sandburg and Detective Ellison sharing co-residency of Detective Ellison's apartment. Liam James Ellison has already lost a great deal in his young life, and I do not believe his interests would be better served by removing him from what is a loving, caring home. I also 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 Sandburg, in fact it would appear that anyone else with an interest in caring for the child has been shown to have ulterior motives." He paused expectantly. The silence was deafening.
"Does that mean he's ours?" Blair asked, nudging Jim.
The judge smiled broadly. "Take Liam 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 it's time we went 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!"
Another phone-call in the middle of the night. Jim hurried downstairs and picked up the receiver, shrugging at Blair when he came out of his room with a questioning look on his face. 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 coming up to stand beside him, a warm hand resting on his shoulder.
"Around ten AM this morning."
"And you're just telling me now?" Jim swore under his breath 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 the next-of-kin. There are certain formalities "
"I'm on my way." Jim hung up the phone without waiting for a reply and hurried upstairs to get dressed, aware of Blair following him.
"It's my Dad. He had a stroke."
"I'll get dressed and phone Sarah."
"No." Jim turned at the top 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. Dressing quickly, he made his way back down the stairs, found his keys and cell phone and ran out the door.
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."
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 know you didn't think Emily would go to the lengths she did but 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 leaned down, pressed a kiss to Liam's forehead and then 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 stroking 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 suddenly and rested on Liam's head, the fingers curving to caress the baby's scalp. William looked at his son then, and Jim saw a little of the mental confusion lift from his father's eyes. William didn't speak, but Jim felt certain he saw love and perhaps an apology telegraphed in the man's gaze.
Jim left William's room and handed a now sleeping Liam over to Blair. Giving his partner a hug, 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 partner turned back to him. "Thank you."
Blair smiled. "Ditto."
More loss, more pain. Jim felt weighted down with it, felt it dragging at his body, hunching his shoulders and bowing his head. He entered the apartment wearily, absently noting dawn beginning to lighten the sky outside the balcony windows.
He lowered himself to the couch and leaned forward, resting his head in his hands. The sofa dipped beside him and Blair's hand reached up to massage his neck.
"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 continued to rub gently. "I'm sorry," he replied, his own voice wavering.
Jim felt mute, a great lump in his throat refusing to allow him to say more, his body shaking with the effort to stay in control and not give in, his chest so tight with grief Jim thought he might suffocate. Finally, the floodgates opened and Jim allowed himself to mourn. Blair wrapped his arms around him, cushioning Jim's head against his chest, murmuring hushed assurances until Jim's grief was spent.
In the aftermath, Jim sat, exhausted. Blair was a warm and welcome weight against him. Upstairs, a baby gurgled softly to himself; giggling and rattling the toys attached to his crib.
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 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."
"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. "Now, if you'll excuse us, Don, I'd like to take my partner and our 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 with Liam 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.