Jim watched Tommy carefully fold up his shirt and place it on the toy box at the end of his bed. With Blair in hospital for surgery on his injured knee Jim was left to care for his nephew. Their hike through the wilderness had been draining for both men, but the thought of coming home to this little boy had kept both men going when the pain from their injuries had seemed overwhelming.
"I can go see Da tomorrow?" Tommy confirmed and Jim nodded, helping the boy put his pajamas on and then settling in the rocking chair with Tommy and the boy's favorite giraffe. He wrapped the brightly patterned patchwork quilt that Naomi had sent around Tommy for warmth and Tommy snuggled into his arms eagerly, needing the reassurance.
"Da was just very tired today. He needed to sleep so he could talk with you tomorrow. Remember how we discussed that Da would need peace and quiet at first?" Jim stroked the short curls and let the chair's easy motion settle them. The Sentinel was most displeased at being separated from his Guide and Jim was trying to soothe them both. Simon had substituted for Jim at the hospital, calling in updates and sitting with Blair when he came out of the recovery suite.
"The doctors were going to make him better though," Tommy insisted and Jim smiled. That was the voice of love speaking.
"That's right," he agreed, "He won't be able to run around for a while, but he will get all better soon."
"And then we're going on an expedition together!" Tommy exclaimed happily, "Somewhere new for a little while!"
Jim and Blair had both decided to take some of their leave time this year in a joint holiday to England. They could visit castles and ruins happily together without the strain of camping or speaking a foreign language. They were taking Tommy for his first trip overseas and the little boy was very excited about it.
"Our first expedition together," Jim agreed, making his voice deep and gentle. He wasn't too keen to travel, but the idea of watching Tommy experience a whole new country was too alluring to pass up. Tommy's head drooped against Jim's chest and the Sentinel slowed the chair a little. Tommy snuggled further in and Jim held him a little tighter, curling his arms around the boy protectively.
Another ten minutes and Tommy was fast asleep, his small body lax in Jim's arms. The Sentinel got up carefully and tucked his Guide's son into bed, gently rolling him out of the quilt and leaving the door ajar. He would sleep in Blair's bed tonight in case Tommy needed anything, so Jim sat on the couch in front of the TV and settled on a movie with the sound turned down and his hearing dialed up.
At nine Tommy stirred, but went back to sleep naturally. Jim checked his own loft and then Blair's before subsiding back on the couch. The phone rang in his apartment and he ran for it quickly, not wanting Tommy to wake.
"Ellison," Jim's voice was hurried and he glanced back anxiously at Blair's half of their home as he waited out the long distance beeps.
"Mr. Ellison, you don't know me," a man's voice said smoothly, "I'm a friend of Rachael Collins. She asked me to get in contact with you."
Rachael had left Cascade not long after Jim and Blair had crashed into the forest. Jim had been unable to find her. She had resigned from her job and sold the apartment, leaving no forwarding address with her neighbors. The post office was redirecting her mail and Jim could only find out where by getting a court order. He didn't want to go to that extreme.
"Oh," Jim smiled, "Is she ok? I looked for her, but…"
"She's fine," the man interrupted, "I'll be in Cascade in two weeks time, I was hoping we could meet. Can I give you the hotel name? We could meet in the bar there."
"Uh, sure," Jim fumbled for paper and pen, "Could you give me her number? I'd like to call her myself."
"Unfortunately she's out of the country," the man's voice was smooth and final. Jim frowned a little, but wrote down the name of the hotel and the time and date for the meeting.
"And your name?" Jim asked and there was a surprised pause on the other end.
"Oh, of course. I'm George Jackson," he identified himself, "I'll see you in two weeks, Detective."
Jim listened to the dial tone for a moment, then hung up gently. Two weeks would give him plenty of time to check out George Jackson and care for his Guide. He put the paper near his wallet and headed back next door to finish the movie and get some sleep.
The sound of the door opening alerted Blair to his visitors and he opened his eyes, turning his head. Jim and Tommy hovered in the doorway; Tommy perched snugly on his uncle's hip. Blair held out his arms, his smile becoming a grin and Jim crossed the room quickly, passing Tommy down to snuggle next to him. The bed was raised so Blair was almost sitting up and Jim sat on the mattress by his brother's feet.
"Are you ok?" Tommy asked anxiously and Blair dropped kisses on his son's face and hair.
"Just fine," Blair replied, and Tommy snuggled in closely. Jim smiled at them and put a hand on his Guide's foot.
"Sleep ok, Chief?" Jim asked and Blair rolled his eyes.
"Yeah," he replied dishonestly. Blair had trouble sleeping in hospitals unless Jim was there, but their separation couldn't be helped. Tommy needed his uncle close by while Blair was unavailable. Both men were still on leave from the PD at the insistence of the department shrinks. Jim found that this time the enforced leave wasn't too bad. His arm cast would have confined him to desk duty anyway and Blair had taken Tommy out of daycare while they were on leave in order to spend the extra time with his son while they recovered from their ordeal. Rediscovering Tommy was a real joy to Jim - the little boy was bright and loving and fun to be around - even when he was being naughty.
Of course, for Tommy, being naughty was refusing to eat his vegetables, or asking for something even after he'd been told no. There was no real vice in the boy and Jim knew that Blair would see to it that his son's character was well developed.
Tommy was curled so closely into his father's chest he was almost inside his skin. Blair's hands moved constantly in a soothing pattern over his back and shoulders.
"Love you," Tommy murmured and Blair kissed him again, feeling the little hitches in Tommy's breathing. The boy was close to tears from the stress.
"Love you too short stuff," Blair smiled, "Love Uncle Jim too."
Tommy turned his head a little to smile at Jim and hold out the hand that wasn't knotted in Blair's pajama top. Jim took it immediately and rubbed his thumb over the knuckles. The gesture spoke for him.
"My family," Blair continued in a contented voice and Tommy smiled, relaxing a little.
"Can you come home now?" Tommy tilted his head back to look at his father. Blair shook his head and sighed.
"Not today, Tommy," Blair reminded his son, "Two more nights and then I can come home. The doctor says I have to stay here so they can make sure everything will get better properly."
"Oh," Tommy thought about it, "Can I see you every day?"
"Yeah," Jim answered that one - no way was he going to be separated from Blair for that long, "We'll come every day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Do you want anything when we come back later, Chief?"
"Something to read," Blair suggested significantly and Jim nodded. One of Tommy's books would be a welcome present - it would occupy the boy and let Blair indulge in his favorite father/son activity - the bedtime story.
Blair settled on the couch carefully and propped the crutches close by. Tommy was asleep and Blair was glad to be home again. Jim settled on the other couch and smiled anxiously at his friend.
"You ok? Do you need anything?" Jim asked quietly and the object of his concern shook his head.
"I'm ok, Jim," he emphasized the response with a smile, "Are you ok? You've been a little twitchy."
"Yeah, I know," Jim ran a hand through his short hair and scrubbed at his face, "I've just been tense. I guess it's 'cos I had to let Simon stay with you when you first went in. I was happy to stay with Tommy - don't get me wrong, Chief. I just wanted to be with you too."
"Come here," Blair put his arms out and the other man moved over for the offered hug, kneeling in front of the couch to be comfortable. Blair's hands found and released the tension in the muscles along Jim's back and shoulders. His scent still had traces of the hospital in it, but Jim simply burrowed in further for the pure scent and hung on tight. His Shaman always knew what he needed.
"Better?" Blair asked when he relaxed and the Sentinel nodded, pulling away and heading into the kitchen to pull himself together and make his Guide some tea. Blair accepted the tea with a smile and Jim sat down on his own couch again with his coffee.
"Hey, Chief, I think I've found Rachael," Jim broke the comfortable silence, "A friend of hers is coming into Cascade and wants to meet with me."
"Yeah? Who?" Blair smiled. Jim had really liked Rachael and Blair had hoped they'd find each other again.
"A guy called George Jackson," Jim grimaced, "Probably her new guy."
"I'm sorry," Blair sighed, "I thought you two would…"
"I guess not," Jim shrugged, "And it's ok, Chief. I'll miss her but I'm not exactly broken hearted here. That says something right? That we weren't really going to be together forever."
"As long as you're ok Jim," Blair nodded his agreement and leant forward to put his empty cup on the table, "When are you meeting this guy?"
"Not for a while - next week actually," Jim collected the empty cups, "You heading to bed?"
"Yeah, I am kinda beat. Why is it that checking out of hospital is so tiring?" Blair grumbled levering himself upright and positioning the crutches before Jim could get out of the kitchen and help.
"It's just so exciting," Jim deadpanned and Blair laughed before swing stepping to his stairs. He propped one crutch against the wall and gripped the banister to start climbing.
"Are you sure you don't want to sleep in your old room?" Jim asked nervously and Blair shook his head. He wasn't going to be coddled to boredom by a Senintel in Blessed Protector overdrive, and knew that giving in now would only encourage his friend. The trick was to do it with tact, and without letting on the reason why you were refusing.
"I want to be near Tommy, in case he wakes. I won't hear him from next door," Blair smiled, "We're not all Sentinels here."
"Good thing too - we'd zone out together and starve to death," Jim growled and positioned himself behind Blair.
"What are you doing?" Blair twisted his head to look back at the man behind him.
"I'm gonna walk you upstairs, Chief. Now will you get going?" Jim mock glared and Blair rolled his eyes before moving carefully up the stairs, his friend always a step behind ready to steady him if it was needed. Once in his room Blair swapped the crutch to the other arm and hopped to the bed, sitting on the edge and starting to remove his shirt.
"Thanks Jim, I can take it from here," Blair grinned, "See you in the morning big guy."
"You sure?" Jim asked a little wistfully and Blair nodded.
"You could sleep here tonight if you like," Blair offered but Jim shook his head, turning back to walk down the stairs.
"I'll hear if you call me," Jim hesitated a moment, "Good night Chief."
"Good night, brother," Blair's smile was like a warm bath and Jim's shoulders relaxed a little as he headed down to his own house.
Tommy woke Jim by the simple method of climbing onto the bed and kissing him awake. It was rather like being slobbered on by a giggling puppy, Jim reflected as he rolled onto his back and pulled Tommy down onto his chest. The boy was wearing what he called 'zoo' pajamas - flannel material with an animal print.
"Good morning short stuff," Jim kissed his nephew back and smiled as he snuggled close, "You ok?"
"Uh huh," Tommy nodded, "Is it too early?"
Jim glanced over at the clock and saw it was their usual waking time.
"No, it's not too early," Jim smiled, "Are you hungry?"
"Want to make breakfast-in-bed for Da," Tommy confirmed, "Can we?"
"Sounds like a plan. In fact we can all have breakfast in bed together," Jim suggested and Tommy kissed him again before scrambling down and pulling at the covers impatiently. Jim took the hint and got up quickly, wrapping himself in his robe and then picking Tommy up. He carried his nephew back to his own bedroom for slippers and robe, then carried Tommy back to Jim's kitchen - where they could make a bit of noise without waking Blair. Jim carefully placed Tommy on the stool they'd bought for this purpose and then tied an apron on his nephew too.
"What shall we make for Da?" Jim asked and Tommy bounced lightly on his toes. Jim felt the sappy grin spread across his face - this was the first bounce he'd seen since he and Blair had got back. The little boy had been inclined to cling to both men - and was very reluctant to let Jim out of sight while his father was in hospital. To minimise separation time Blair had used some of Amelia's money to pay for a private hospital. He'd also donated to Cascade General - sponsoring a similar operation for someone who didn't have his resources. Jim thought he was nuts, but Blair felt better about jumping the queue with the donation and no more was said.
"Eggs on toast and coffee!" Tommy announced, "With bacon?"
"I don't think Da likes bacon in his coffee," Jim smiled as he went through the contents of the fridge. His father had made sure both fridges were well stocked.
"Uncle Ji-im," Tommy complained, "The bacon goes with the eggs!"
"Oh!" Jim came back to the counter and quickly cracked enough eggs for three into the mixing bowl before handing Tommy the whisk and guiding his nephew into the right motion. As Jim set up the toaster, coffee maker and heated the pan for the eggs he mused on his unwillingness to let Tommy very far out of reach this morning. The boy hadn't complained at being carried from place to place, but Jim wasn't in the habit of toting his nephew around. Maybe it's displacement activity. I can't carry Blair around even though he's in pain and can't walk, so I carry Blair's son instead, Jim mused as Tommy watched Jim scramble the eggs and then started making toast after carrying his stool to stand in front of the toaster. Jim shrugged his thoughts off and tuned into Tommy's chatter, smiling as the boy planned his return to daycare and Miki.
Jim chimed in, speaking in Quecha slowly. Tommy answered in kind - using simple sentences to reply to Jim's questions. It was the child's gift - he picked up spoken languages very quickly and Blair was planning to teach him to write simple English sentences once he started pre-school. Tommy was obviously intelligent and Blair wanted his son to learn to use that intelligence wisely. At the moment they were encouraging Tommy to ask questions and explore the world around him.
They put everything on a tray and Jim carried it next door and upstairs carefully. Both man and child stopped at the top of the stairs to look at Blair. The curly haired man was lying on his back, doona across his chest. As they watched Blair let out a mighty snore that broke the spell and had Tommy giggling madly.
"Shhh, don't wake him!" Jim said loudly, and Tommy only laughed harder, trotting to the bed and climbing up to straddle Blair's chest. Blair's eyes opened and he smiled fondly at his son before wrapping him in his arms and kissing him on the nose.
"Good morning," Tommy piped in a clear voice and kissed his father back.
"Good morning. Sleep well?" Blair asked and Tommy nodded vigorously. He stretched his arms out wide, palms facing in.
"I slept thiiiiiiis long!" Tommy announced and got a laugh from both men.
"That is a long time," Blair marveled, and turned to look at Jim, "Is that breakfast?"
"Yeah, yours is downstairs Chief," Jim replied and Blair laughed. Tommy frowned at Jim and got off his father. Blair sat up, propped the pillows and levered himself up to lean against them. He helped Tommy get settled and Jim put the tray on the dresser, ferrying plates, coffee and milk to the two people on the bed. He sat on the other side of Tommy to eat his breakfast and listened quietly to father and son as they chattered together about nothing much.
A Sentinel level scan of Blair revealed his friend to be well rested, in almost no pain and at ease. Jim felt the muscles across his neck loosen and finished his breakfast, joining in the chatter happily. The last of the worry eased and disappeared. Blair was fine and they were back safe in their territory. His Guide would recover.
Jim looked around the bar casually, heading for the bar tender as he looked. A police check on George Jackson revealed him to be a lawyer too - one who worked for an international firm and spent a lot of time overseas. He had a Washington license, and no driving infringements. His picture had been with the license, and Jim scanned for that face before giving up and asking the bartender if George Jackson was there.
He was pointed over to a discreet table in the corner. George was a lightly muscled man, about Jim's height, but not his build. He had straight blond hair that was carefully styled and wore designer clothes in the shape of chinos and a tailored shirt and jacket. He recognized Jim right away and stood, offering his hand. His handshake was firm and correct but the contact had no sense of personality to it. Jim sat in the other chair, declined a drink and looked calmly at his host. He carried a letter in his inner jacket pocket - one that kind of anticipated the meeting and released Rachael from their attachment. If Jim was unable to speak to her directly, the letter in his pocket was the next best thing.
"Rachael has told me everything about you," George was saying comfortably, "She was very upset by the crash."
"That's why I'd like to talk to her - to reassure her that I'm ok," Jim smiled without meaning, every nerve in his body twitching.
"I'd rather you didn't," George vetoed that idea with an unmistakable air of authority. It set Jim's teeth on edge. He decided to push things along - get the big ‘she's with me now' announcement out of the way so he could give George the letter for Rachael and leave. The letter had been Blair's idea and a good one. Even if Rachael never read it Jim got a sense of closure from it all.
"And why not?" Jim asked lightly, leaning back in his chair and fixing George with a mildly challenging look. The other man didn't seem at all fazed and that irked Jim even further.
"Because my wife is to have nothing more to do with you," George said smugly, and Jim called the waiter for a drink.
"Your wife?" Jim asked after it arrived and he'd swallowed almost half of it. George nodded.
"Isn't that a bit quick? I was only gone two months."
"We've been married four years," George replied, an odd glint in his eye, "We have an open marriage. We're apart so often because of work that it made sense to allow my wife her affairs and I mine. As long as we're discreet there is no problem. Until now of course."
"Pardon me for surviving," Jim's voice could have cut through lead and George shook his head. Jim was getting angrier by the minute, but held his temper. Better to get it all over with now and then go home. George was speaking again and Jim focussed on the words, just wanting this unpleasant little interlude over with.
"Don't misunderstand me, Detective. It was not your accident and survival that caused the problem," George drawled, leaning back and surveying Jim complacently, "It was an accident of a different nature that changed your circumstances."
Jim frowned, then felt all the heat in his body drain out via his feet. He and Rachael had an accident nearly seven months ago, but thought that everything was ok. She was pregnant? He was going to be a father? The room lurched sickeningly for a moment and then settled. Everything was too hot and close, but Jim struggled to concentrate, to stay sane and upright just a little longer. Soon he would go home and Blair would put back all the pieces that made Jim's world whole.
"By the time she realised it was too late to do anything about it safely - and I won't risk her health in that manner," George continued, each word like a dagger in Jim's chest, "So I will help her cover up the… indiscretion. Neither of us wants the child. You have a choice. We will sign the child over to you upon its birth or give it up for adoption. You have two months to decide, Detective, though if you ever cared for Rachael you won't keep her in suspense any longer than necessary. Here is the card of my lawyer - please contact him with your decision. We won't need to meet again."
George slid the card onto the table, dropped some money beside it to cover his tab and walked out.
Jim sat alone for a very long time.
It was only as the staff began to pack up for the evening that he stirred, dropped some money on the table as well before snatching the card up and fleeing the bar. Though he'd never finished that one drink, Jim felt the world tilt and sway around him. He stumbled once on the way to the car and then sat behind the wheel for long minutes, breathing hard and trying to get it all under control.
After a while he started the truck and drove carefully back to Prospect, oblivious to everything around him. He parked in the usual spot and slumped forward over the wheel.
Questions pounded through his head at dizzying speed and in infinite variety on the same theme: what am I going to do?
Blair stirred the sugar into his coffee slowly and took a pensive sip. Jim had returned home last night and gone straight to bed, ignoring the light in Blair's living room that let him know his friend was still awake. It was never a good sign when Jim cut himself off from his Guide. When threatened the Sentinel tended to throw the baby out with the bath water and get rid of everyone close to him, Guide included. The last time this had happened…Blair shivered and thrust away the specter of the fountain.
The door to Tommy's room opened and Blair smiled over at his son.
"Hey, short stuff," Blair put the coffee down and bent over to swing Tommy up onto his hip. Leaning against the counter for balance, Blair hugged his son close and kissed him on top of the wild curls.
"Good morning Da," Tommy snuggled in as always and Blair rocked a little. When Tommy lifted his face from Blair's neck he put his son down.
"What shall we make for breakfast?" Blair asked and Tommy scrunched his face up in thought. It was such a cute expression that Blair held his breath to keep from laughing.
"Toast," Tommy decided, " 'Cos then I can make it for you and you can sit down. I can take care of you!"
"Ok," Blair smiled, "Do you want me to reach the jam and peanut butter for you first?"
Tommy nodded and Blair did that, making sure that everything was safe for Tommy before swing stepping over to the table and sitting down, stretching his leg out to the side. Tommy stood on the stool that was identical to the one Jim had in his kitchen and started making the toast.
"Shall we go to the park today?" Blair asked, watching closely, proud of his son's independence and confidence. It had taken a lot of love and effort to get his son to this stage, and Blair didn't regret a moment of it.
"Yeah!" Tommy nodded, bouncing a little on his stool; "Can we have a picnic? With Uncle Jim too?"
"We can ask if Uncle Jim wants to come along," Blair agreed, hoping that Jim was over the worst of his reaction to whatever George Jackson had told him. Blair couldn't imagine what had been said at that meeting - even though his imagination was pretty wild at times.
Tommy got down and walked over to Blair carrying a plate of toast with peanut butter on it. He went back to the kitchen for his own plate and Blair helped him climb up onto his booster seat. They ate breakfast in companionable silence and Tommy carefully carried the empty plates back to the kitchen while Blair wiped up the table.
One shower and clothes stop later Blair and Tommy headed in next door to find Jim. The fact that he hadn't joined his family for breakfast had Blair worrying.
Jim's loft was empty - the bed made and the door secured. Tommy turned a disappointed face up to Blair, who hid his own misgivings to smile and shrug it off. They made sandwiches and then walked slowly to the park, Tommy carrying Raffey and Blair wearing his pack.
Tommy supervised Blair's seat on a bench near the equipment. He bossed Blair shamelessly; making his father put his leg up and asking if he was warm enough. Blair ended up laughing at Tommy's version of Blessed Protector Overdrive, and sent his son off to play while he mused over Jim's actions. Blair had packed a book of his own to read and the cell phone - just in case. He pulled the cell phone out now and hit the speed dial for Jim.
"Ellison," the gruff voice was welcome in Blair's ears.
"Hey Jim, we missed you this morning," Blair made his voice light and carefree, "You ok?"
"Fine," Jim replied stonily, "Just have some stuff to do. You need something?"
"No," Blair said slowly, warning bells going off in a full chorus, "Just called to see how you were."
"I'll talk to you later," Jim hung up and Blair bit his lip, turning the phone off and stashing it back in his pack. Tommy shrieked and slid down the slide, waving madly. Blair managed a smile and waved back to his son. Whatever Jim had been told at the meeting last night must have been pretty nasty - Jim was in full withdrawal and Blair had no idea what was causing it. He closed his eyes and prayed there wasn't another Sentinel on the loose.
Jim hung up and went back to staring at the ocean. He'd driven out here before dawn and sat on the hood of the truck to watch the sun rise over the water. Though he'd gone to bed upon returning home last night he hadn't slept.
The sun had risen slowly and majestically, sending golden tendrils of light snaking over the water from the horizon. The crisp cool air had slowly heated from the tender light, making Jim's skin tingle in delicious sympathy. The world seemed cleaner and younger as the sun began its gentle arc into the sky. The beauty and peace were lost on Jim.
As the day wore on the early morning chill dissipated, giving way to unseasonable warmth. It was perfect picnic weather - grab a friend and go play weather, and a part of Jim resented the fact. He should be with Blair and Tommy, who were doubtless outside right now, enjoying the day and each other.
Gradually the road behind the car park where Jim was sitting became busier as people headed to work or home from the night shift. The noise of the cars brushed his hearing without acknowledgement. As the day slowly wore on people appeared, in cars, on foot, with pets and family and friends - going about their daily lives, swirling around the troubled island that was Jim Ellison.
Jim's turmoil wasn't visible to the casual observer, though Blair would have been able to spot the jaw clenching tension his partner felt in a second. The Sentinel was a seething mass of contradictory impulses and emotions.
He felt angry and betrayed that Rachael had used him as a sex toy while her husband was away, but at the same time pitied her status as the mother of an unwanted child.
He was scared that he would lose Blair and Simon's respect, and resentful of Blair's easy acceptance of fatherhood. He wanted to tell his brother and friends, but feared their responses to his situation - the ridicule and contempt he felt sure they'd hand out.
He was too old to be a father - nearly forty. By the time the kid was ready to leave home he'd be in his fifties - no kid should have a geriatric for a father! But what if it was a Sentinel too? It would need Blair and Tommy to Guide it. Another generation of Sandburgs enslaved by the needs of a Sentinel.
And if it were a Sentinel would he react to it the way he reacted to Alex? Would he hurt his brother, leave him vulnerable and alone?
What would his father and Steven say?
How could he possibly explain his adoption of a baby to the PD?
How could he abandon his own child to strangers? Damn Rachael for putting him in this situation anyway - if he'd known she was married …if he'd known she was pregnant…
Why hadn't he noticed the baby when they'd had sex? As a Sentinel surely he'd have noticed that about her…they were joined at the genitals for crying out loud!
What was he going to tell Blair - his shaman already knew that something was wrong? The phone call had shown how concerned Blair was. Jim shifted against his truck and hung his head, no longer looking at the placid view of the ocean.
What was he going to do?
When Jim got home late that night - starving, exhausted and no further ahead with his planning - Simon was sitting with Blair next door. It was easy for Jim to stretch his hearing and eavesdrop - after all, the sound that formed the backbone of his life was in that room: Blair's heartbeat.
"He just hung up?" Simon's voice was saying.
"Yeah," Blair sounded defeated. It was not hard for Jim to discern that Blair and Simon were sitting side by side on the couch, facing the darkened windows with coffee on the table in front of them. Blair's leg would be propped up on the table too, and Simon would be sitting so he was facing his consultant a little.
"Maybe he just needs some space, Sandburg. You guys have had it pretty rough lately and no chance to spend time apart. Maybe it's not a rejection - remember when he went fishing without us that time?" Simon suggested. His tone didn't agree with his words - their boss was worried about them and with good reason. When Sentinel and Guide fell out of synch things were not pretty.
"That's the problem Simon!" Blair's voice was low and intense, "The last time he needed space I drowned! Well it's not going to happen, Simon. My Sentinel is not rejecting my son - he sure as hell isn't rejecting me. I'm going to get to the bottom of this if it kills me!"
"Last time it did," Simon blurted. There was a shocked silence, "Jesus Sandburg, I didn't mean it that way! Maybe we should just give him some space."
"No," Jim wasn't aware he'd moved until the two men on the couch turned to face him, "I…I guess I need to…"
Blair levered himself upright and stood facing Jim. Jim looked at Simon, his face taut with need. Blair deserved the truth, and Jim would just have to trust him. Blair had never let him fall before - he'd take care of Jim now.
"I need to talk to Blair," Jim's voice was barely audible, "Simon…could you stay with Tommy?"
"Sure Jim," Simon nodded and passed Blair his crutches. Blair took them wordlessly and swing stepped over to Jim, following when the Sentinel turned and led the way back to his half of their home.
"Have you eaten?" Blair asked as they passed the kitchen and Jim shook his head. Blair clucked under his breath and headed for the fridge, looking for leftovers. Jim stood numbly at the kitchen counter while his shaman re-heated some of the previous night's stir-fry and then wolfed down the plate while still standing at the counter. Blair stood opposite him silently, waiting until Jim was finished and the plate rinsed before leaving the kitchen. Early in the partnership Blair had come to realize that if Jim was avoiding something you had to stay in the area until he'd confronted it - that meant you stood in the kitchen until he ate, sat in the bedroom until he slept, stood outside the bathroom while he bathed. Most people would have thought it strange to say the least, but Blair's theory was that the Sentinel needed the Guide's presence to remind him to do things sometimes. Either that or Jim needed to be bullied into caring for himself from time to time. Whatever the reason, Blair Sandburg was the man for the job.
"We need to talk," Blair led the way to the couches now and Jim stopped him. True, this is where they did most of their serious talking, but Blair's injury would become uncomfortable if he were propped on the couch for too long. The cop walked over, picked his partner up with a grunt and let the crutches fall with a clatter. He walked swiftly up the stairs, ignoring the other man's startled exclamation and Simon's voice as the Captain headed in to check out the noise and saw them on the stairs.
Whatever Blair said to Simon made the captain return to his couch and Jim was satisfied with that - he wanted nothing to distract him from his brother. Settling Blair tenderly on the bed - propping him up with pillows and wrapping a blanket around him as well - Jim climbed up onto the mattress and settled down. He rested his head over Blair's heart and wound his arms around Blair's waist, content to just lie there for a moment.
Blair put his arms around Jim and held on - waiting out the reaction that was making Jim tremble like this. He didn't say anything, just held on and stroked the head cradled on his chest. Jim's Sentinel instincts were running high and Blair didn't want to exacerbate the problem by demanding 'normal' behavior. Whatever Jim was struggling with was life changing. The question was, would Blair be allowed to help?
"I'm in trouble," Jim's voice was muffled, but still audible. Blair felt a band of tension snap deep within. Jim wasn't rejecting him or Tommy. He would be allowed to help.
"Tell me," Blair urged and Jim snuggled deeper, turning his head so he could talk without getting a mouthful of Blair's shirt. Blair shifted until they were both comfortable, sliding down a little and tugging Jim closer. Jim needed to feel that his Guide was safe, so that was what Blair gave him, consciously relaxing his body and slowing his breathing. Jim relaxing his grip a little and curling even closer rewarded his efforts.
"George Jackson…is Rachael's' husband of four years," Jim shook his head, "She…lied to me Chief. He…he said they have…an understanding about sex…"
Blair's grip tightened and he dropped his head to rest his cheek on Jim's short hair. He was glad Rachael wasn't psychic - she'd have curled up and died if she knew what Blair was thinking about her now.
"I'm so sorry," Blair whispered, "What did he say? What's he going to do?"
"That's not it," Jim gulped for air, "She's…the blowout…she's pregnant…"
Blair gasped in shock and felt Jim flinch. He tightened his grip even further, rocking them now and rubbing his cheek over the soft hair. He murmured vague comforting sounds and waited until Jim was still again before asking.
"Will you be allowed to see the baby?" in a voice that was gentle yet neutral. A great rending sob tore its way out of Jim and the cop fell apart, giving into the stresses and uncertainties, sure in the knowledge that Blair would be able to put him back together.
Blair rocked them and hummed meaningless sounds into Jim's hair, stroking and squeezing the shuddering body in his arms gently. He was scared spit-less - Jim was a strong man who'd rather forfeit the limb of his choice than fall apart in front of someone else. Though the meeting had only been last night obviously Jim had been deep in thought all day. It was up to Blair to catch up now and lead his Sentinel to a place where peace could be found.
Jim's sobs slowed and finally stopped. Blair fished a tissue out of the stash he carried in his pockets for Tommy and let Jim clean up a little before pulling his friend close again and tucking Jim's head back over his heart. Jim curled into his side and Blair settled the blanket over the cop too.
"Tell me everything," the command was spoken lovingly and Jim rubbed his cheek on Blair's chest. A patch of his shirt was wet from Jim's tears. The mingled scent was oddly soothing.
"I've got…two months to decide if…if I want it…then they'll…put it up…for adoption…"
The broken sentence was hard to hear, and what went unsaid spoke volumes. Blair hummed again, rubbing Jim's hair and stroking his back and shoulders gently. He didn't push for more, willing to wait Jim out.
"I…I don't want…to give it up…but I…I'm too old to be a Dad…I'm scared…what will Simon think…or Dad…what will you think of me?"
"I think you'll do whatever is right for you. I'll still be here no matter what. You're not too old to start fatherhood Jim, and Simon can go jump off the reservoir for all I care. No matter what your decision is I'll support you, brother. It's going to be ok," Blair crooned and Jim nodded, burrowing closer and going to sleep.
He woke after an hour of uneasy dreams. Blair was still rubbing his back in slow circles and Jim pulled away to sit up, absently tucking the blanket back around Blair and sitting cross legged beside him.
"Feel better?" Blair asked anxiously and Jim nodded without meeting his eyes, "I can't believe you carried me up the stairs with your arm in a cast!"
Jim shrugged and Blair patted his friend on the knee. It was up to Jim to start this off, Blair couldn't help until he knew where the problem lay - did Jim want to be a Dad or not? The silence became heavy, but still Blair didn't speak. Jim shifted uncomfortably, keeping his eyes on the blanket resolutely. After a few minutes he looked up at Blair's open face and flinched.
"I'm sorry," Jim blurted, "I feel so bad…you never even thought of rejecting Tommy…"
"Hey!" Blair snapped, "Stop it. That was different!"
"No it's not - you didn't know, didn't plan on being a father. You never once thought of just saying no…" Jim contested this point hotly and Blair slapped a hand down onto the mattress. The other man flinched and fell silent - still unsure of Blair's true feelings on the matter and a little scared to find out. A day of circular thinking hadn't helped matters.
"Jim! You are not me! We're very different you and I!" Blair interrupted his whirling thoughts, "I was unplanned, Jim. It just isn't in me to consider it a misfortune that a child was created by two people who were - at the time - in love."
"I don't think you or Tommy are accidents!" Jim gasped and Blair leaned over, putting his hands over Jim's mouth.
"I know," Blair said fiercely, "Don't twist this around. All I'm saying is that you come from a different place. You've always planned your life Jim - I usually don't. Or if I do it's not in the same way. This is a big change for you and you have to do what's best for you. Don't think about the others - about Rachael or Simon or your Dad. Just what's right for you. If you are ready to be a dad…if you're ready to change the whole direction of your life, then adopt the baby and raise it. If you're not, then give the baby up for adoption - let a couple who want a child love it and cherish it. No matter what you decide, Tommy and I will be here for you. I'll help with the daddy stuff, or the single man stuff. Whatever you need, I'm going to be here. I love you, Jim."
Jim leaned forward for a hug, and Blair squeezed hard - trying to give Jim his own strength. Jim's hands fisted in Blair's shirt and he sighed.
"God, I love you so much Chief. You're unconditional. If I quit being a cop tomorrow and started waiting tables in a topless bar you'd still love me," Jim breathed the words in wonder and Blair chuckled. Sounded like he'd broken the circle of Jim's thoughts and they could now come to the decision Jim had to make.
"Although why anyone would hire you to wait topless…or is there something you haven't told me?" Blair eased the mood and Jim laughed weakly at the small joke. Blair's presence in his life was unconditional. Even if the Sentinel chose to stop being a Sentinel Blair would remain with Jim - they were tied together by more than just genetics.
It was as simple as that, and Jim knew what he had to do now.
"I won't give it up," Jim looked Blair in the eyes and smiled, "Blair…I'm going to be a daddy!"
Blair's smile was full of wonder and joy and Jim let his legs uncurl. He fell into the arms Blair held out to him and snuggled close. Drained by the emotions he'd been fighting, Jim drifted into a deep dreamless sleep.
Blair watched over him until dawn.
"Chief!" Jim's raised voice drifted clearly down the passage to Blair, who rolled his eyes at Tommy and got up. The crutches were gone, as was the walking stick that the therapist had insisted on. Blair still wasn't up to running anywhere - or even climbing more than one flight of stairs - but he was walking almost normally.
"Yes Jim?" Blair asked in a normal tone as he walked towards the corridor. Tommy followed closely behind, carrying Raffey and smiling widely. His uncle had been very entertaining of late - and there was the added excitement of a new baby for Uncle Jim.
"The instructions are wrong!" there was more than a little frustration in Jim's voice and Blair grinned.
"Would you like some help?" Blair kept his voice at conversation level and winked at his son. There was a loaded silence as Jim edited what he wanted to say for young ears. He'd turned down Blair's first offers of help, insisting he'd be ok on his own. Blair had shrugged; told Jim the offer was always open and gone next door to draw with Tommy.
"Yesssssss!" Jim hissed as Blair pushed open the door to his old room. Blair grinned at the crowded confusion in the space he'd once inhabited and shook his head. How had he fit in here? For that matter, how would a growing child?
"Bested by baby furniture, Sentinel of the Great City?" Blair teased lightly, slipping into the room and relieving Jim of the side of the cot the other man was balancing. Jim growled and Tommy giggled. The little boy sat in the doorway to watch as Blair picked up the instructions, read through the Japanese version and then proceeded to put the cot together, directing Jim in a gentle voice as he did.
The room was freshly painted - crisp white walls and ceiling, and the living room boasted new rugs to go into the baby's room. There was a change table - still to be assembled - and a chest of drawers as well as a toy box and bookcase. Blair had contributed a rocking chair for father and baby - also sitting in the living room until it could be moved in - and Tommy had chosen a mobile of wild animals. They had hung the mobile already and Jim was going to put the crib under it - provided they could get it put together.
"How on earth…" Jim trailed off as the cot came together sweetly, and scowled at Blair, "No fair Shaman - you put a spell on it!"
Blair choked, and then laughed incredulously. Jim grinned and helped put the cot into place before winking at Tommy and then starting on the changing table. Blair's assistance again greased the wheels of progress and in no time they were carrying the boxes out and the chair and rug in. The mattress was added to the cot and Jim made it up carefully with Tommy handing the linen over and supervising while Blair set up the floor lamp that was Simon's gift - it could be dimmed down as a night light or turned up for normal usage.
Jim loaded the gifts from the baby shower onto the shelves of the bookcase - baby powders, nappies (cloth of course, no way was Blair's family contributing to the landfill), various toys, brushes, towels, lotions and baby wipes. A nappy bucket sat under the changing table ready for use.
"It's a real room!" Tommy clapped his hands and bounced on the spot, "When does the baby come home?"
They had told Tommy that Auntie Rachael was giving Uncle Jim a baby, but she didn't want to live in Cascade any more so Uncle Jim would raise the baby by himself.
With Da's help, Jim had amended and Blair had agreed immediately. Tommy had insisted he could help too and Jim had welcomed the offer, more than willing to include Tommy in the preparations for the new arrival. A slightly more adult version had been told to Simon and William Ellison, who had accepted the news after the shock wore off. Brown and Rafe had organized the baby shower - springing it in the bullpen one lunch hour while Jim wrestled with paperwork and sweated out a call to the Jackson's lawyer.
"Not long now," Blair glanced at Jim. Rachael was nearing the end of her pregnancy. She would give birth any time now and Jim was already jumpy every time the phone rang. Tommy looked around the room carefully and Blair rubbed his friend's wrist lightly. Jim gave him a tight smile and straightened a little. The waiting would be over soon.
Tommy bit his lip and then walked over to the cot. They had left the side down and Tommy reached in now, carefully putting Raffey in the middle of the cot.
"Sweetie, we can't play in here," Blair cautioned and was startled at the sheen of tears in Tommy's eyes.
"I'm not playing, Da," Tommy's lip quivered, "I just wanna give Raffey - to help take care of Uncle Jim's baby. You said Raffey was magic Da - the baby needs magic more than I do…"
Jim muffled an exclamation and swept the boy up into his arms, hugging hard and rocking. Such a loving sacrifice, given so freely should be rewarded. And then rejected as carefully as possible - the giraffe was Tommy's first gift from Blair and too precious to give away.
"Thank you sweetie," Jim's voice was rough, "But Raffey is yours. We'll find the baby someone magic of their own. I need to know you're safe too."
Tommy received Raffey back happily, and Blair joined the hug, the two adults holding the boy between them lovingly. This was a favorite hug with all three - what Jim called a 'Tommy sandwich'.
The phone rang and Jim tensed up.
"Don't be scared," Tommy breathed in Jim's ear and then leaned into his father. Blair tucked his son onto his hip and watched Jim stride out of the nursery. Tommy looked at Blair with wide eyes and Blair made a goofy face back, earning a smile. Jim carried the still ringing handset into the nursery and answered it while standing close to Blair and Tommy.
"Ellison," Jim's voice was even and calm. Blair watched as his jaw clenched immediately and bit his lip. The lawyer got that reaction out of Jim nowadays. Maybe this was the call they were waiting for.
"I see…and Mrs. Jackson? Yes, I know where that is…yes, I'll be there…thank you. Goodbye."
Jim hung up and turned to look at Blair. The big man had a dazed look on his face. Blair felt his heart race and Tommy was quivering with excitement in his arms, his fist clutched in Blair's collar.
"Well?" Blair prompted gently when Jim just stared at him and Tommy. He restrained his urge to shake the answer out of his dazed friend.
"She had it yesterday afternoon. They're ok," Jim blurted, and Tommy bounced on Blair's hip. Unprepared for the action, Blair winced as his body jolted his knee. Jim stepped forward and took Tommy from Blair's grasp immediately. Tommy twisted to look at his father anxiously, who smiled carefully and leaned against the changing table to take the weight off and give the protesting joint time to recover.
"Boy or a girl?" Blair distracted his son, who turned to look at his uncle with bright eyes. Jim's own eyes were shining with excitement. The lines of stress that had taken residence on his face over the last two months were gone, wiped away without a trace.
"A girl," he breathed, "I have a daughter!"
Tommy clapped his hands in excitement and then threw his arms around Jim's neck, dropping a big kiss on Jim's cheek.
"Uncle Jim's a Da!" Tommy crowed and Jim hugged him tightly. Tommy wiggled to get down and hugged Blair's good leg, then let go so Blair could step forward and hug Jim. They thumped each other on the back and made happy little sounds.
"When do you leave?" Blair asked when Jim could let go and he looked around the room before stepping out of it. Energy sizzled through his body, and his mind raced with a hundred and one thoughts. No matter how often Jim had considered this moment the reality swept away his plans.
"Now," Jim replied, "I guess I should get going…Blair…"
"What is it Jim?" Blair put a hand on his friend's arm and felt the muscles relax a little.
"Come with me! I know I said that I should go alone but I can't…."
Jim looked embarrassed and miserable at the same time. Blair knew that his friend was still doubtful about becoming a parent, despite the determined and eager front he'd shown his family, friends and colleagues. Blair bit his lip and wondered how they were going to manage this. Tommy was due to start back at day care tomorrow - this was their last weekend of medical leave, though Jim was starting paternity leave tomorrow - arranged at his request to coincide with the expected delivery date. That meant that Blair would be going to work while Jim stayed home with the baby. Rafe and Brown had had a field day with that one.
"I'll call Simon," Blair told his friend, "You and Tommy start packing, ok? Tommy, help Uncle Jim out."
"Ok Da. C'mon Uncle Jim, we need your bag," Tommy took Jim's hand and tugged the big man towards the stairs while Blair picked up the abandoned phone. Still dazed, Jim followed along meekly.
"Simon, it's Blair," Blair smiled at the gruff voice, "Yeah, we just heard - a daughter, born yesterday afternoon. Jim wants company, so we're all going together. Yeah, I realize that man, that's why I called. I'm not cleared for field work anyway Simon - all I was going to do was desk duty…I can do that from here. I'll come in for the meetings, but Jim needs me right now…a week tops…thanks Simon, you're a prince. You're definitely worth more money…yeah I will…'bye."
Blair hung up and went to pack for himself and his son before hurrying downstairs to transfer the baby capsule from Jim's truck to Blair's Subaru. Jim and Tommy met him down there with the bags - including the one Jim had prepared for the baby for the trip from the hospital to Cascade.
"We're all locked up. Ready to go?" Jim sounded impatient and Blair nodded, swallowing a grin as he lifted Tommy and Raffey into the booster seat and strapped them in. Jim checked the baby capsule over and then got into the passenger seat. Blair shot him a surprised look, but said nothing as he carefully pulled out and headed for the highway.
Jim hesitated at the door of the Maternity ward. Blair put his free hand on the back of Jim's shoulder and waited. Lately it was easier to wait for Jim to confide his fears than to push for him to communicate. Jim didn't need the stress and by now Blair was pretty good at what he privately called 'Jim speak'.
"What if Rachael is there?" Jim whispered and Blair rubbed the shoulder his hand was resting on before tugging at Jim, getting him to turn and look at his Shaman.
"Don't borrow trouble. If she's there we'll wait until she's gone," Blair's voice was calm and determined. Jim nodded once and pushed the door open. Tommy trotted in alongside Blair, holding tight to his father's hand and Raffey.
At Reception Jim inquired hesitantly after Rachael Jackson/Collins.
"Oh, the Ellison baby," the young woman on the desk nodded, her face alive with curiosity, "She's in the baby ward, cot twelve."
"Thank you," Jim looked for the signs that would lead to the ward and missed the young woman's intense gaze. Jim spotted the right direction and headed off. Blair lingered for a moment. Something was not right here.
"Is there a problem?" he asked the woman behind the desk. She shot him a startled look and then looked down at Tommy, who smiled at the pretty lady with his usual charm.
"No!" she waved a hand, "Goodness, no. It's just the first time we've had a gay surrogate at the hospital! Everyone's a little curious."
"Actually, what you have is an adulterous woman leaving her lover to raise her unwanted progeny," Blair deliberately picked words that Tommy wouldn't clue into, "Spare him the gossip, ok?"
She nodded, her face blushing, and Blair smiled down at his son.
"C'mon short stuff," he grinned at the curious face, "Let's go find Uncle Jim and your cousin."
"Yeah!" Tommy bounced on his toes and they followed the signs. Even though they were five minutes behind Jim, he still hadn't gone into the ward. Blair picked Tommy up so the little boy could see through the observation window and asked the still man which one was cot twelve. The new father pointed numbly and Blair looked at his niece.
She was still a little raw looking - the way most newborns are. She had blond wisps of hair curling on her little head and her hands were clenched into fists in her sleep. She was wrapped in a plain green blanket.
"Have you gone in?" Blair asked, knowing the answer was no. Jim shook his head and Blair rolled his eyes, "Well she's certainly not coming out to you, my friend. Go on in there and meet your daughter. Shoo now!"
Jim jolted and took three steps before his brain caught up with his body. He shot Blair a faintly admiring look but kept walking. Blair and Tommy watched him go inside and speak to the duty nurse.
The smell of babies overwhelmed the smell of the hospital for Jim and the Sentinel in him was glad. Hospitals always smelled of blood and other bodily waste. Occasionally he'd smell decay and the stench of what he could only think of as death as he passed by certain rooms or wards. The day Jim smelt that coming from his Guide's room was the day he'd kill them both.
A nurse with green eyes and short red hair put him in an armchair in the corner, designed for first time snuggles and new fathers. It was padded and comfortable. Jim spent a few seconds stroking the soft fabric on the chair arm before the nurse returned and leant over to place his daughter in his arms.
She was even smaller than she looked - or so it felt to Jim as he froze in an effort not to jostle her. The nurse was used to this reaction, and carefully positioned Jim so he was holding the baby properly and would be reasonably comfortable until the shock wore off.
Unaware of the naked joy and wonder on his face, Jim stroked a delicate finger over the perfect face of his daughter. She stirred but didn't wake as he rocked a little on the spot. Her heartbeat and breathing were fast - as was the norm for babies - and Jim spent a moment imprinting it on his memory before turning to her scent. His nose tickled alarmingly and Jim hastily turned scent back down to two - below normal. The powder the hospital used was almost sickeningly sweet. Jim unwrapped the blanket and stroked his finger over the tiny arms and legs. He wrapped her back up and then looked up at the observation window.
Blair's smile was brilliant and Tommy was pressed up against the glass. Both of them were watching avidly - Jim had felt the touch of their eyes and was comforted by their presence.
"She's beautiful," Blair's voice reached Jim's ears easily and Tommy nodded vigorously. Jim smiled at his brother and then looked back down as the baby in his arms stirred. Pale blue eyes just like his own blinked up at him short sightedly. She turned her head and pursed her lips, looking to suckle on the finger that stroked her cheek.
"She's ready for a feed," the nurse broke in on Jim's delight and he accepted the bottle she held out. His daughter suckled easily, smacking her lips and making little grunting noises. When the bottle was empty the nurse helped Jim lift her into position and burp her, a towel draped over one shoulder as she squirmed and then spat up a little milk. The sour smell caught Jim at the back of the throat and his nose wrinkled involuntarily, getting a smile from the nurse. This was also a common reaction in first time fathers.
"You'll get used to it," she counseled and helped Jim shift his daughter back to the crook of his arm, "You can talk to her for a little while if you like. She'll go back to sleep soon. Have you decided on a name?"
"No," Jim frowned, "Didn't her mother name her?"
"Not that one," the nurse snorted, "She hasn't had anything to do with this little angel since she gave birth to her. While she's still in the hospital we've been expressing her milk to give to the baby - but we'll have to switch to formula soon. She's leaving tomorrow."
Jim nodded, trying not to let his anger show. Rachael was rejecting her daughter as surely as Grace had rejected her sons.
"How much baby experience have you had?" the nurse continued, and Jim looked up sheepishly.
"I went to a course at the local community center," he confessed, remembering how out of place he'd felt, "I graduated."
"Good," the nurse smiled, "That's a good start. We'll help you out for a few days - it's hospital policy to do a little hands on training before releasing the baby and…parents. Will your lover be helping you?"
"My what?" Jim frowned and then looked over at Blair and Tommy, who were still pressed up against the glass, watching; "Oh! He's not my lover - he's my brother. And yes, he'll be helping out."
"Oh, I'm sorry…I wasn't judging you," the nurse blushed and Jim grinned. The baby in his arms was slowly drifting off to sleep and he gazed down at her for a moment before looking up at the nurse. How could anyone feel angry while cradling such a beautiful child?
"It's ok," he reassured her, "Can they come in?"
"If they're quiet," the nurse meant Tommy of course, "Will your sister in law be helping out too?"
"She died last year. It's been just the three of us…four now," Jim's eyes carried a clear warning and the nurse nodded before turning and gesturing Blair and Tommy in. Blair spoke to his son for a moment and then walked to the door. Blair sat on the floor in front of Jim with Tommy in his lap.
"She's so small," Blair whispered and Tommy nodded. The little boy was in awe of the baby nestled in his uncle's arms. He reached out a cautious finger and stroked the nearest fold of blanket gently before putting his hand back in his lap.
"What's her name?" Tommy whispered and Blair looked up at his partner curiously. They'd never picked a name out - both men had assumed that Rachael would name her child. Jim gazed down at his daughter and shook his head.
"She doesn't have one," he replied. A frown crossed Blair's face and then he bounced on the spot, making Tommy giggle softly, then glance around nervously to see if he'd been too noisy.
"Who does she look like?" Blair asked and stroked his son's back lightly, settling the four-year-old and reassuring him. Jim glanced up at his Guide, a question in his eyes.
"Who is she, Jim? When you look at her, who do you see?"
Jim smiled down at his daughter and gave his friend the name that popped instantly to mind, as Blair no doubt intended.
"Clare Therese Ellison."
Simon watched as Jim Ellison - Sentinel of the Great City, Detective of the Year and nemesis of criminals everywhere - cradled Clare Ellison in his arms and cooed.
"The sap levels in this place have rocketed," Simon accepted the coffee Blair was holding out and grinned at the indignant look his remark received. Jim was oblivious to everything but his daughter and his nephew, who was pressed up against his side and cooing too.
"Is he ok?" Simon looked over at Blair who nodded. He knew what Simon was thinking - hell, he'd worried about this himself. So far there was no indication that Clare Ellison had inherited her father's abilities - but then Blair wasn't expecting any such signal until she was at least two years old - the stage when babies became fully aware of the world around them, but were still egocentric enough to only be concerned with how it affected them.
"So far," Blair confirmed, "No Sentinel reactions beyond complete cowardice when it comes to changing nappies. At least he can dial the smell down, the rest of us just have to suck it up and deal."
Simon laughed hard, almost spilling his coffee at that home truth. Jim grinned at his boss and rejoined the adult world. Blair had become used to this phenonemon. His son was still stroking his niece's blanket, totally absorbed in her.
"The gig has some perks after all," Jim crowed and Blair rolled his eyes.
"Well, Jim, I guess that perk means you get nappy duty from now on. What do you think Simon? It would be cruel of me to deny him the chance to exercise his perks," Blair appealed to Simon over Jim's sputtering and Simon nodded judiciously.
"You're right, Sandburg," Simon agreed, "It would be cruel. As an officer of the law it's my duty to uphold Jim's right to exercise his few perks."
"Fine," Jim fumed, "And when Clare 'perks' she's all yours, Chief."
Blair rolled his eyes. Clare had been a bit colicky on the formula the hospital had suggested, 'perking up' her feed more often than not until Blair had found a better substitute. The rocking chair in the nursery had seen a lot of action as the new father and his brother tried to soothe the unsettled baby. Tommy had taken to sitting on the floor nearby with his toys, keeping whichever adult was on duty company while Clare fretted and fussed.
Blair thought how lucky they were Tommy hadn't exhibited any of the normal sibling rivalry symptoms that so many people had warned them about. He and Jim had tried to include Tommy as much as possible, and Blair had scheduled some 'Tommy time' into each day for father and son activities. So far they had staved off the worst of the inevitable jealousy and insecurity a new baby engendered - Blair hoped that would continue.
"So Jim, it's been three weeks. When will the rest of the gang be able to visit?" Simon put the empty cup on its coaster and raised an eyebrow at his detective. Jim looked over at Blair, who smiled and shrugged. They had to go out sometime - and Clare was old enough to withstand the mild weather if they were careful.
"Uh, how about next Saturday? During the day?" Jim suggested. The weather forecast was good, and truth be told, the idea of showing off his daughter was very appealing.
"We could go to the park," Blair grinned, "Make a family day of it - we haven't done that in ages. Can Daryl come?"
"Yeah!" Tommy tuned into the conversation and slowly and carefully eased away from Jim and Clare before bouncing over to Simon and putting his arms up to be picked up. Simon obliged readily, settling his adopted nephew on one knee and pretending to groan under the weight. Tommy merely giggled and repeated his question.
"I'll have to call him and find out," Simon told the boy, "I'm sure he'd love to come."
"Cool!" Tommy clapped his hands and bounced. Simon let his knee collapse and Tommy shrieked as his uncle 'saved' him. Clare startled in Jim's arms and began to cry. Jim sighed and got up, walking towards the nursery to soothe and calm his daughter.
"I'm sorry," Tommy looked chagrined and Blair shook his head, smiling and leaning over to tousle his son's hair.
"Don't be sorry," Blair's voice was light, "You didn't do it on purpose. We're not mad."
"It's ok, Tommy," Simon added, hugging the little boy close for a moment, "It was a mistake is all."
The soft wails stopped and after a few minutes Jim came out of the nursery and put his arms out for Tommy, hugging the boy tenderly and dropping a kiss on his hair.
"I didn't mean to make her cry," Tommy's voice was too soft for the others to hear. Jim smiled at him and squeezed lightly.
"I know, short stuff," Jim made sure his voice was happy, "No one is mad at you. Clare's ok, she's gone to sleep. How about you and I go to the park? We haven't been in ages."
"Da too?" Tommy looked over at his father. Blair shook his head.
"Sorry, sweetie, someone has to stay with Clare. You and Uncle Jim can go together," Blair replied. Simon got up from the couch. He couldn't bear to see Tommy's crestfallen face - especially when the fault had been his.
"I could stay," he offered, "I've taken care of babies before."
"You sure, Simon?" Jim asked, "It's been a while since Daryl was a baby."
"The skills are good anywhere, Jim. Why don't the three of you go out for a while? You can take a phone if you're worried," Simon raised his eyebrows and Jim nodded, heading for the door with Tommy still in his arms. Blair grinned, got up too and slapped Simon on the arm before following his brother and son.
"We won't be long," Blair said as he passed and Simon nodded. When the door closed he let the frown cross his face. Usually Blair would leap up and literally bounce out the door to spend some time in the rare spring sunshine. Since the knee injury Blair had seemed to…slow down a bit. True, he had regained full range of movement and the department physicians had cleared him for active duty, but lately the Sandburg energy had been muted. Simon hoped that the effort of caring for a son, niece and Sentinel wasn't draining the young man beyond his strength.
Simon turned and walked quietly into the nursery.
He had seen the room when Jim was painting it and marveled at the size of the space that confined the irrepressible Sandburg. It was tiny. Standing in the doorway now, Simon grinned at the simple furniture and solid colors that dominated the room.
A part of Simon had been expecting heaps of pink and frills - after all Jim was a doting daddy and very proud of his new daughter. In Simon's experience, doting daddies tended to go overboard on the girlie stuff unless their wives - something Jim lacked - reigned them in. Clare had been spared the frippery. The captain's experienced eyes separated the Ellison touches from the Sandburg touches.
Jim had chosen the furniture; it was hard wearing and multipurpose without the usual ugliness that came with such things. The rocking chair was Blair's - a wide seated wicker chair with wings and bright cushions. The rug was Jim's, a bright thick tri-coloured oval with a simple geometric design. The curtains on the French doors were from Blair, plain unadorned calico with lots of pockets for toys and other such objects. The picture above the changing table was definitely Jim's - a print of a jungle scene, with a waterfall and clearing. The framed nursery rhyme with a border of wild animals that hung above the cot was Blair's - the rhyme itself was from Africa.
The room was neat, and carefully organized so that everything you needed was close to hand. The changing table was placed close to the supplies a baby needed for nappy and clothes changes. The cot was near the rocking chair. The toys were placed where a crawling baby would be able to reach them, though Clare had yet to roll over by herself, let alone sit up and crawl.
The baby in the cot stirred for a brief moment and then sighed, going back to sleep. Simon grinned and went back out to the couch, turning the game on and reducing the volume to avoid disturbing her. There had been no baby monitors in the nursery, but with Jim around they didn't need one.
Sure saves on batteries and arguments about who forgot to turn it on, Simon mused and settled in to watch the game.
Blair listened to the earpiece crackle with status reports, looked around the street corner and sighed. Jim would kill him if he knew, but the Sentinel was still on paternity leave and therefore blissfully unaware that his Guide was helping Narcotics in their bust of the latest of warehouse drug labs. This particular group moved fairly regularly - usually the cops got to the lab after it was abandoned. The city had already had a rash of deaths from the newest drug, called Fresh Haze; Blair was determined to get it off the streets as soon as possible. The drug had similar properties to Golden - adding a personal motivation to Blair's efforts.
Ironically, they were in Blair's old neighborhood. He suppressed a grin and focussed on the targeted warehouse. A week of steady surveillance had let him plot the traffic in this area. The bums and street people avoided certain areas, as did the hookers and winos. The gangs were harder to track - their territory was nebulous at the best of times, borders changing on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.
By plotting the human traffic in the area Blair had managed to locate the drug lab - by the simple credo of watching for a place that everyone avoided. No one went near someone else's drug lab unless they were looking to get into major trouble. The cops had a fair idea of all the major players in this drug lab and - thanks to Blair - had managed to identify a few more, making the job easier.
In the course of his work Blair had spotted the neighborhood fakes - winos and others that the drug manufacturers had planted in the area to keep watch. It had taken the consultant weeks of intensive work and a little undercover role playing of his own to work all of this out. He'd started early and worked late, filling an entire interrogation room with his notes charts and files.
Dressed in old clothes that were bad enough to pass, but not so bad they'd draw attention - an outfit designed to give him maximum range of movement - Blair lounged against the building behind him and watched the fake wino across the way check him out.
The plan was to distract the man long enough for the SWAT teams to get into position and take him out with minimum fuss. From there they'd have egress into the lab. Narcotics had borrowed heavily from other departments for this bust, and Blair caught sight of Rafe and Brown preparing to go in with SWAT on his way to his own post. He knew that Conner and Simon were nearby too and Taggert was waiting in the wings in case the teams found any little 'gifts' the gang had set up to discourage trespassers.
Blair stared at the 'wino' deliberately, provoking him with body language. The man was getting twitchy, and dropping in and out of character. Blair restrained a grin and rubbed his jaw, eyeing the man off calmly. His opponent spat in the gutter, hitched his too-good-for-a-wino trousers and started across the road, his pace too even for the drunk he was supposed to be.
"Hey, I don't have any money, so don't ask," Blair taunted as the man got into hearing range, and then turned and sauntered off, slipping down the alley where the rest of his team waited. The 'wino' took the bait, cursing and following him. Sergeant Wiles from Narcotics arrested him without fuss and passed him to an officer to escort to the waiting vehicles two blocks away.
"Good work, Sandburg," Wiles nodded and passed the word that the access point was clear. Blair slipped the bulletproof vest on and prepared to go in behind the troops. This particular group of scumbags used illegal immigrants to make their product - and Blair was the PD's best hope of keeping the unwilling workers from entering the fray on the side of their employers. He would be able to defuse the situation quickly while the PD focussed on the bosses. Wiles and his team would accompany Blair every step of the way to ensure his safety and assist in the crowd control. At least that was the plan. Things went wrong almost immediately. The SWAT team was spotted setting up on the adjacent rooftop. Later Sandburg heard that it was a stray flash from a scope that alerted them to the presence of the team.
All the people on the ground knew was that the men in the lab suddenly started evacuating out of any exit they could, guns blazing. Wiles went down with a bullet to the thigh and Blair threw himself across the open space to get him to cover. Tearing Wiles' shirt into strips he dressed the wound quickly and made sure that Wiles was ok. Then Blair headed for the warehouse. There were still prisoners in there that would need a friendly face and an interpreter. Help was on the way for Wiles - the Sergeant would last until it could reach him.
Blair went in behind Rafe's team, slipping away from the action to the basement where the forced labor was being held captive. They were held in their prison by a padlock, securing the trapdoor that was their only way out. Blair ascertained that he could speak their language and pick the lock if they had to evacuate fast. He called reassurances to the people trapped below him but refused to open the trapdoor. He knew that the first chance they got the prisoners would scatter and disappear. Immigration wanted these people in custody. They would be assessed for genuine refugee status and most likely deported. While Blair sympathized with their plight, he couldn't afford to let them out. There was no telling what their reasons for leaving their homeland were, and what they'd do if given the chance to escape. Were they victims or trouble? They certainly wouldn't be too cooperative with the cops in their dash for freedom.
There was a sound nearby and Blair slid into cover cautiously. The fight was coming this way and he was unarmed - as usual - though he could defend himself if necessary. Blair spared a fleeting thought to his Sentinel and the children before tracing the sound to the far wall.
There was a man crouched there jabbing at something Blair couldn't see. His head turned and Blair recognized him as Carl Covey - one of the ringleaders of this not-so-merry crew. Blair listened to Carl shouting at his prisoners and moved carefully closer, trying to see what Covey was doing. All his instincts were screaming there was danger - not just to him, but all the people in this building.
A slow peek over a crate and Blair dropped back to the ground, shaking in disbelief. Their criminals had rigged a self-destruct for the building. Covey was arming it and setting the timer as he watched. Blair froze as the countdown started from five minutes and Covey ran for the nearest exit. Blair waited until he was clear before grabbing for the radio clipped to his collar and risking a transmission. There was no antenna and the few facts that Taggert had taught Blair about bombs suggested the device was not sensitive to radio waves.
"Pull out - he's armed a bomb! Four minutes fifty seconds and counting!" Blair shouted across the transmissions crackling in his earpiece and heard confirmations and orders to pull back, "Taggert - he's headed your way!"
Blair ran to the trapdoor and fished out his pocket knife, slipping open the pick on it and tackling the lock. The people trapped below were screaming and pounding on the locked trapdoor as Blair struggled to pop the padlock and free them.
"Sandburg! Where are you?" Simon's voice blasted in Blair's ear and he flinched, dropping the tool from sweaty fingers.
"Not now Simon," Blair growled to himself, retrieved the tool and started again. The people below had fallen silent and Blair was glad of the respite. The gunfire had stopped as everyone evacuated the building before it blew.
"Sandburg!" Simon bellowed again and the lock popped free. Blair hauled up the trapdoor, yelling down to the prisoners, who surged up the ladder, following his pointing hand to the nearest exit. He grabbed for the radio and silenced Simon's next call.
"On the way out with the prisoners!" Blair yelled, hauling the last one - a pregnant woman who was struggling with the ladder - along by the arm, risking a glance towards the timer. His knee slammed off a crate in passing and Blair swore, tightening his grip and pulling her faster. They blasted out through the doors, the prisoners heading straight for the shelter of a nearby police bus and the cops that were waving them on, yelling encouragement.
Blair rounded the corner of the vehicle as the building blew. The force of it sent him and the woman tumbling, slamming into the asphalt and gasping for air as the force of the blast blew past them. Debris rained down and Blair threw his body over the woman instinctively.
After a moment everything was still and silent. Blair lifted his head cautiously as the smoke and dust eddied around the street, looking at the frozen bodies of his colleagues, former prisoners and the criminals who had started the whole thing. The woman beneath him groaned loudly. As if it were a signal the frozen tableau shattered. People started moving, arresting, giving aid and comfort, rescuing where needed. Blair lifted himself off cautiously and checked his charge before rolling her onto her side. She was clutching her belly and as Blair watched a contraction rippled across it. He yelled for a medic, heard the call answered and leant over, trying to ease her into a better position.
"Dammit Sandburg! Ellison is going to kill me!" Simon bellowed as he stormed towards them. Blair grinned up at his boss and then returned his attention to the new life starting before him.
"Where's Tommy?" Blair sat on the couch, Clare facing him. The afternoon sun was warm through the glass and made his niece's hair glow gold. Clare turned to look at Tommy, laughing and leaning over to pat at his face. Clare wore the one piece rompers that her grandfather had bought for her - a plain pink suit that had snap buttons and feet. She was glowing from all the attention and playing to her audience.
"That's right!" Blair praised the baby. Clare Ellison in a playful and happy mood was a charming sight. Tommy laughed too, capturing the hands to kiss them before letting go. Blair heard the front door open and his partner hang his jacket up. He smiled, knowing that the Sentinel had probably been listening to them for the last few blocks and all the way upstairs. Tommy hadn't even noticed his uncle come in as he played with his cousin and father.
"Where's Clare?" Blair continued the game, knowing Jim wouldn't mind watching his baby show off her smarts. Clare patted herself on the head, laughing and making 'bub-bub-bub' noises. Tommy pressed into Blair's side, giggling at her antics and rubbing his cheek on Blair's sleeve. Blair leaned down to drop a kiss on Tommy's hair.
"Such a smart girl!" Blair crowed, jiggling her a little and laughing, "Where's Blair?"
Clare leant forward and patted Blair's mouth. He blew raspberries on the small hands, and she squealed, patting harder before clapping her hands.
"Where's Daddy?" Blair felt Jim lean against the back of the couch and Clare looked up, her whole face lighting in that special smile she got whenever she spotted her father for the first time. It always took Blair's breath away to witness the love shining from Clare's face as she gazed at her father. Jim's answering look was just as incandescent - the two of them lit up in each other's company.
"Mum-mum!" Clare shouted in her soft voice and raised her arms appealingly. Tommy laughed so hard he fell back on the couch and Blair felt his face split in an enormous grin. The look on Jim's face was priceless. On the one hand it was the first time Clare had named him, other than the soft noises she made while he tended her. Clare was obviously trying to communicate here, and Jim was her first word. The baby's arms waved insistently in an effort to get her father to come closer. On the other hand, she was calling him ‘mum' - and he'd never identified himself as that. He always called himself 'Daddy' when speaking to Clare.
"Mum-mum! Mum-mum!" Clare insisted and Jim had no choice but to reach down and take his baby from his laughing brother. Her little feet kicked in the air until Jim's other arm came around to scoop her close to his chest. As always, contact with his daughter sent Jim's senses into a spike as he cataloged her scent, breathing, heart rate and temperature. She was healthy and happy, and Jim's senses relaxed to normal again. Blair's scent mingled with Clare's, soothing Jim in a way that never failed to astonish him - the unique combination of his Guide and daughter spoke to something instinctual in him. Jim shook himself back to the present as Clare squirmed in his arms and called him again.
"Hey beautiful," Jim cooed and kissed her soundly, "Daddy's home!"
"Mum-mum," Clare insisted and snuggled close, patting her father's face and repeating the word over and over again. There was such contentment in her voice that Jim felt a tingle of warmth. He wondered wryly how long it would be before his daughter was telling him to stay out of her life. Jim put the thought aside - time for that later, along with the first boyfriend, date and that first step into adulthood. Life was good.
"Did you put her up to this Chief?" Jim asked and Blair tried to get enough air to speak. After several attempts he calmed down, reaching out to stroke his son back to sensibility. Tommy calmed down and sat up on his knees, facing his uncle and cousin over the back of the couch. The little boy was still grinning hard and hiccuped occasionally with laughter.
"Nope," Blair grinned, tipping his head back to look his brother in the eye, "Actually Jim, she's at the stage where a few vowels, Bs and mmms are all she can manage. Most babies' first words are mum and bub. She's got the mum down pat. The 'd' sound is too hard for her at first. She's been making chat to you for ages - she must have figured that a certain sound gets your attention. Now she's just using that sound loudly. She'll probably call you mum until she can say dad. Don't freak, ok?"
"Yeah," Jim smiled at his beautiful daughter, "I was just remembering a comment you made back in New York…never mind sweetheart, Daddy can wait."
"Mum-mum," Clare cooed and leaned into her father's strong arms.
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