Title: Fireworks

Author/pseudonym: alyjude

Pairing: J/B

Rating: NC17 (do you know how weird it is writing NC17 with Jake present?)

Series/sequel:     Yes, this is a story in the Everything's Jake Universe

Date:     July 17, 2001

Email: alyjude@webtv.net

Disclaimer: I did *not* put the firecracker under Blair and Jim's bed. I swear it. But I definitely saw Jim light a firecracker under Blair. And you all know who they belong to... ME!!! ::aly, ducking the men in white coats with nets::

Note: I now have an official *team* of betas and we all know I desperately NEED them. :)) Thank you to MELVIN (the heart of the Jake series), GREENWOMAN and new to the force, LISA! Pity them folks and send them flowers.

Warning: Nope, none. Really. Zero. Zilch.

Summary: Wherein we countdown to Jake's first July 4th, we join him for his first swimming lesson, Simon says something stupid and everyone eats way too much!

NOTE, the Sequel:

While this story stands alone in the Jake Universe, you should know a few things: Jake's first Thanksgiving/Christmas/Chanuka will appear in a zine novel from Angel Wings Presses (aly waving madly at Bast) eventually.

Also, Bunny Trails, Jake's first Easter/Passover, is coming very soon to an sxf near you, but this one kinda pushed it over. Also, later in the summer, Jake, Jim and Blair take their first vacation. So how does that relate to this story? Well, this *does* stand alone, but a few things have been left unresolved for now and are part of a Jake arc that will be concluded in September when Jake goes to kindergarden. Also - Jim and Blair both have new vehicles purchased in the Thanksgiving story and Naomi now occupies the loft.

Also, a new OC in the form of Corky, appears here, but he was first introduced in a snippet of the Thanksgiving/Christmas story posted to Senad. Um, I think that does it. <G>

 

Fireworks by alyjude

 

"twizzlers. no, twisters. wait, spark-leees."

"Sparklers."

"spark-lers. must have sparklers. lots of sparklers. *tons* of sparklers."

"Nothing else? Just sparklers?"

Jake tapped a finger on his chin as he looked up at the blue sky over Cascade, squinting in thought, then shook his wild curls and said, "no, must have *everything*!"

"Oh-ho, now it's *everything*? What constitutes *everything*?" Blair asked, a wide smile on his face as he gazed down at his son.

"um... don't know - what *is* everything?"

"Well, in about two minutes, Jim will be here and seven minutes after that, we'll be standing in front of the Cascade Police Department-sponsored fireworks stand and you'll find out."

Jake slipped a small hand into Blair's larger one and peeked around him to look with longing down the street. "he's not heeeeere yet, daddy." "Be patient, Grasshopper. Jim is *never* late."

Jake giggled and hopped up and down on first one foot, then the other as he made little chirping sounds, his version of grasshopper talk.

"Hey, look who's coming, Hoss."

Jake peeked again and immediately gave up all pretense of being a grasshopper in favor of being an excited four-year old boy - who'd just spotted his other daddy.

"poppy! poppy!"

"None other, Jake. See? What did I tell you? Always right on time. Not even running errands can keep poppy from his appointed rounds."

The black four-door F-250 came to a stop at the curb in front of the Anjasmayo and smiling, Jim leaned over and said, "Anyone need a ride to the fireworks stand?"

Hand in the air, waving madly, Jake exclaimed, "i do! i do!"

"Well hop in, buddy and this taxi is on its way!"

Blair opened the back passenger door, watched with delight as Jake scrambled up and into the truck, then clambored over and into his built-in carseat. In spite of happy and excited fingers, the boy managed to buckle himself in and smiling proudly, announced, "to the fireworks and the sparkleeees!"

 

***<><><>***

 

Jake gazed with fascination at the pictures that adorned the make-shift stand, then his eyes widened at the array of samples behind the mesh screen and the huge boxes of *assortments*, as his poppy had called them.

"how, how do i, how do we know what to pick, daddy?"

"Oh, that's simple. We pick the biggest and the bestest, right?"

"the bestest!" Jake yelled as he ran to the other end of the stand and started to look in earnest at the many boxes. His eyes strained to read words, to make the letters mean something and frowning, he turned to his daddy and asked, "picc...picca-l-o pete? what's that?"

"Only one of the best, Jake. And it whistles too." Jake looked from his daddy to his poppy and announced with great conviction, "well then, we must have picc...alo petes! *tons* of 'em."

"And fountains, and snakes and...."

"Down Blair, down," Jim said, laughing. "The King's Collection seems to have everything we could possibly need, so I say we buy it and get to Swenson's."

"Spoil sport. And does it have whistlers? And spirals? And what about showers?"

At every question, Jake had been nodding his agreement as both he and Blair looked at Jim.

The older man's laughter finally drowned out Blair's never-ending questions as Jake tugged at his father's shirt and asked, "what's a shower? i don't want a shower on wednesday and *no* snakes!" He pronounced.

Blair lifted him up and smiling, said, "Believe me, you'll want *these* snakes, Jake. And showers are fireworks that come in a cone, you light 'em up and they shoot up a shower of shimmering lights. They are *way* cool!"

Jake turned his head to gaze up imploringly at Jim. "poppy? showers?  snakes? must have them!"

"Trust me, guys, this box has it all and plenty of everything. Now you gonna let me do this?

There's a hot fudge banana sundae with my name on it, just waiting for me at Swenson's."

Blair looked questioningly at Jake who promptly shrugged, hands out in a gesture that said, *up to you, daddy*. Blair looked up at Jim and said, "Buy away, man, but remember, if this box doesn't satisfy everyone - it'll be on *your* shoulders."

Jim sighed, rolled his eyes and walked up to an open window. "King's Collection, please."

The young man on the opposite side smiled and surprised Jim when he said, "Detective Ellison?"

"Yes...." before he could say more, the teenager said, "I'm Phillip Barrister, Detective Don Barrister's son."

"My God. The last time I saw you - hell, you were...."

"I know, sir, I know. I was about ten. I've been living with my mother in Missouri. I just came back to Cascade a few weeks ago. I'll be attending Rainier in the fall. And sir? If I were you, I'd get the All American Special. It's more expensive, but believe me, it's worth it.  *And* there are five more boxes of sparklers and speaking as an expert - Jake there will be very satisfied."

Jim shook his head and when a small hand on his arm made it known that Jake had overheard; he turned to the boy to see him nodding sagely.

"i think he's right, poppy. i be very satisfied. gar-en-teeeeeed!"

"Uh, Phillip, this is my son, Jake, the about to be satisfied owner of the All American Special and holding him is my partner, Detective Sandburg who will, judging by the gleam in his eye, also be *very* satisfied. Wrap it up, Phillip."

"yippee!" Jake announced to the world.

Jim and young Phillip talked a bit more with Phillip assuring him that his father was very happy in his retirement. Before saying their good-byes,  Jim promised to drop in at the pub his friend now owned and then with a wave,  the Ellison-Sandburg-Porter men headed to Swenson's.

 

***<><><>***

 

Jacob Michael Porter was busy scooping the remnants of his sundae out from the bottom of the small glass dish as Jim inspected the newly acquired purchase that young Mr. Porter had insisted they bring into the restaurant with them. Sandburg watched Jim inspect but there was no smile of appreciation on Blair's face.

As Blair watched Jim, a frown marring his handsome features, he tried to examine the nugget of worry that had made itself known at the fireworks stand. The germ of fear that had popped up when Jim had *failed* to mention that Jake was *their* son, thus implying that *they* were a couple.

 

***<><><>***

 

All three *men* sat on the living room floor and inspected the contents of the large box of fireworks. Jim sat crosslegged, Jake in his lap and together they held up each item so that Blair could read its description from the pamphlet that came enclosed with their selections. The more Blair described, the bigger Jake's eyes seemed to get.

"tell me again."

Both men knew what Jake was asking. With a patient grin, Jim did the honors.

"Well, we're all going to meet at Bayside Park around four and...."

"who's everyone?"

"Simon," Blair jumped in, "Megan and Brian, Daryl of course, Joel, Cherry and her parents, Corky, Jim, you, a whole bunch of firemen and cops, a few people from the building and that's it."

"you left out *sum* body, daddy. shame on you."

Eyes wide with innocence, Blair said, puzzled, "Why, Jake, who did I leave out?"

In answer, the Jakester cupped his mouth with his right hand and whispered into Jim's ear.

"Why, Jake, I do believe you're right. He *did* leave that person out.

What shall we do?"

"i don't go if he doesn't. no matter *how* many sparkleeeeees you bought!"

"Come to think of it, Jake, neither will I!" Jim announced.

Jake then wagged a finger at his daddy and admonished, "you left out ...

*you*!"

"No, no, not possible. However could I do that? Let me do this again...." Blair then started counting on his fingers....

"Simon is one, Joel is two, Daryl is three, Megan and Brian are four and five, Corky would be six, Cherry and her folks would be seven, eight, and nine, you, Jake, would be ten, Jim would be eleven, and we're not sure how many from the building will actually be there and then...."

"and then *YOU*!"

"So I'd be twelve, right?" Blair asked his son.

"Twelve, Sandburg? Yeah,  that's about right for you, especially with those showers of yours," Jim said with a wicked sparkle in his eyes.

"Jake, my love, duck."

Jake did as his daddy asked and Blair promptly hit Jim with a pillow from the couch. The war was on and within minutes, all three were rolling on the floor as pillows flew and fireworks were carefully moved from harm's way.

 

***<><><>***

 

"so then what?"

Jake sat in Blair's lap now, all three men still on the floor, tuckered out and resting after their small war of the pillows. Jim was stretched out beside them, lying on his back, hands behind his head as he listened.

"Well, Jim will scout ahead and find us...."

"the bestest...."

"Yep," Blair said with a smile aimed at Jim, "the bestest spot for our picnic. We'll set up, chow down on...."

"fried chicken, tater salad with bacon, corn pudding, cruuuu-ton salad with tons of blue cheesy dressing, ice tea and juice and strawberry...truffle!"

Jim reached out one lazy hand and tugged at Jake's shorts, saying, "Trifle, young sir. Strawberry Trifle. The bestest dessert in the world for the Fourth of...."

"juuuuuly!"

"Absolutely, Hoss," Blair added.

"then what, daddy?"

"Well, as soon as it gets dark, we'll have a great time watching our own fireworks, taking turns setting them off while you, Cherry and Corky stand by with your sparklers. When the last fountain is done, we'll settle down on our blankets and chairs...."

"and then?"

"And then the...."

Jake's head rolled up so he could see his daddy upside down and he grinned and finished, "fireworks in the sky!"

"You know, Chief, I've yet to figure out why our son insists on hearing this over and over again when he knows it like the back of his hand," Jim teased.

Jake promptly lifted his hand and scrutinized the back of it. Both men laughed.

"fireworks gonna be beee-u-ti-ful?"

"Totally, Jake. And the finale will take your breath away," Blair told him.

Jake's head slid to the side so he could see his poppy who immediately confirmed the information. "Spectacular, Jake. Totally awesome."

"i'll go then," he responded with a smug grin.

"Well, thank God," both fathers said with a laugh.

 

***<><><>***

 

"did you know that cherry is going swumming at the bay park? cherry knows *how* to swum."

Jake was kneeling on the bench at the kitchen table, his head down while he helped sort green beans for Blair. But Sandburg didn't miss the tone of the question. Nor did Jim, who was giving the chicken a quick grilling for the cold chicken nicoise salad planned for dinner.

"Uh-huh, well, there *is* a wading pool at the park, Jake."

"she knows *how* to swum."

Blair took the pile of *good* green beans and carried them to the counter where he dropped them into the now boiling water. As he let them cook, he said, "Um, Jim? Do you get the feeling that Jake - wants - something?"

"No, do you?" Jim asked as he took the chicken off the grill pan and placed it on a paper towel -covered plate.

"Well, I have this niggling little feeling...."

Jake covered his face with both hands and groaned dramatically.

"Well, Chief, I trust your intuition, so if you say he wants something... um, maybe a car?

Although I'd have to say he's a might young yet. Oh, I know, he wants...."

"pop-eeeeee," the young Mr. Porter said with impatience.

"...to learn to swim, maybe?"

"You think, Jim?"

"Just guessing here, but it's a distinct possibility."

"So, Jim, man, you know how to swim?"

"Nope. You?"

"Fraid not. Guess yon Jake there is fresh out of luck."

"da-deeeeee," the young Mr. Porter whined with ever greater impatience.

Blair ignored the whine and with a grin hidden from Jake's view, he dumped the now blanched beans into a collander, then into an ice water bath. As he turned, he found his son standing in front of him, hands on small hips, and glaring up at him. Jake then waggled a finger at him and accused, "you do *too* know how to swum. and you must teach me - *now*!"

"Now, Jake? Right *now*?"

Jim put a hand on top of Jake's head and swiveled it so that the boy had to look at him.

"Maybe the koi pond? Just throw you in, see how it goes? Then you and your fishies...."

"pop-eeeeeee!"

"No? Not the pond?"

"must learn to swum, daddy, must. you already tolt me how to hold my breath and i can, for a really, reeeeely long time, i can swum, i know i can! please, pretty please with a cherry on top?"

"Chief, I think Jake has inherited *your* pout."

"Noticed that. He does it well, don't you think?"

"Added a few finer points to it... and yeah, actually, his pout is *better* than yours."

Jake rolled his eyes and waited....

Blair squatted down and pulled the anxious boy to him.

"Tell you what, Jake. Tomorrow, after work, Jim and I'll pick you up at Maggie's and we'll head over to Belmont Plaza Pool, okay? We'll start the lessons tomorrow. What say you?"

"yippppppppeeeee!" Jake planted a wet kiss on Blair's cheek and as he danced out of the kitchen, he chanted, "i'm gonna swum, i'm gonna swum, i'm gonna swum!"

 

***<><><>***

 

"So is Naomi going to make it for the Fourth?"

Blair put the phone down and frowning, turned to Jim. "No, she isn't.  Her friend isn't doing well at all. The surgery was a success, but Julie's not healing as fast as hoped, so mom is staying another week."

Jim rolled over and wrapped his arms around the younger man as he said with a half smile, "Simon won't be happy."

Blair turned in Jim's arms and propped himself up on the chest below.

"Ah, ha! So you've noticed too?"

"Like, I'd have to be blind not to? And I'm most certainly *not*. He's smitten, Chief."

"I know. Oddly enough, I think she is too. I mean, since moving into the loft, well, let's face it, she's only been gone twice. Once in February and now because of Julie's surgery."

Jim stroked a hand over the bare back and down to rest on Blair's right ass cheek. Also bare.

"Yeah, but let's face it, a lot of that is having a grandson. She just doesn't want to miss anything."

"Oh, sure, but I think some of it is this friendship that's popped up between her and Simon. Who knew they'd have so much in common?"

"Not Simon, that's for sure."

 

Jim checked the clock, then the bedroom door. Closed. He grinned, rolled over and consequently onto his partner, who was convienently on his stomach. Fate was a wonderful thing.

He let his morning hard-on slide against the round flesh that represented Blair's very nice ass as he kissed the warm neck that was perfectly positioned next to his mouth. Logistics - also a wonderful thing.

"mm, 'im?"

"i should hope so," he whispered.

"time?"

"early."

"jake?"

"quiet, asleep."

"well then... bring it on, mr. stud."

"Such an invite. How could I possibly turn that down?"

"turn it up, *now*."

Jim nibbled at Blair's ear lobe, then as the younger man groaned, he murmured, "such a demanding slut."

For an answer, Blair lifted his hips, inviting Jim's dick to slide into his crevice. The feeling sent tremors through both men.

"how, after how many months?" Jim asked.

"eight. eight months."

"how, after eight months, can it still be so good? so new? how can everytime be like the first?"

"you're old and have a really bad memory?" Blair teased.

Jim licked a path from his neck to the end of Blair's shoulder, then tweaked a curl. "i give you romance, a loving tribute and you accuse me of being *old*? let's just see *how* old...."

"aw, god, jim...."

Jim's hand fumbled in the drawer next to the bed, uncapped the lube, let some squirt onto his hand, then applied it where it would do the most good. He lifted Blair's hips even higher as he bit down on the soft skin below Blair's ear. A groan and a thrust greeted his move and with little preamble, he slid his dick halfway in, then stopped and held.

"aw, man, don't do this...don't torture me."

"am i old, sandburg?" he whispered into a mass of living hair.

"old? you? never!"

Jim held the younger man down, refusing to allow him to push back. His own body was revolting against the punishment of holding steady, of *not* pounding into Blair, but this was too much fun....

"and it's *always* like the first time because?"

"jim, i'm dying here...."

"Because," Jim said louder, more demandingly as he nudged further inside Blair's body.

Fingers gripped the pillows as Blair tried again to push back but Jim held strong.

"because, because... you're such a fine lover?"

Smiling in triumph, Jim brought his mouth back to Blair's ear and said, "Ya think, Darwin?"

"oh, yeah, yeah, i think. i *know*. now god damn it - do *something*!"

"Your wish, Sandburg. Your wish."

And Jim did. He pushed in, then pulled out almost completely before plunging in again and this time, allowed Blair to join in the rhythm.  Moments later, they were both moving, groaning, sweat clinging to their skin, Blair's hair plastered to his back.

Jim sped up his thrusts, pounded harder than ever before and found deep satisfaction as Blair pushed up almost punishingly. He knew that the feel of the sheet below Blair had to hurt, but also knew the pain was a pleasurable thing, but still, he *needed* to have his fingers around Blair's dick when he came, needed to feel the pulsing *aliveness* of the man.

Timing his thrusts with his hand movement, Jim worked it so that he and Blair would come together - and they did. In the sound of flesh sliding against flesh, the delicious moans, the heat of Blair's orgasm spilling over Jim's hand, and his own, filling Blair....

 

***<><><>***

 

"morning."

"morning."

They both chuckled, then Jim started to shift, to move and Blair said, "don't. stay just like this."

"weight."

"stay."

Jim stayed, his body covering Sandburg's, his hands on top of Blair's, his face buried in the crook of Blair's neck.

 

***<><><>***

 

"don't forget - swumming tonight. my first lesson!"

"Jake, would Jim and I forget that?"

"better not! what time, what time?" Jake was jumping up and down in Maggie's living room, Puddles, Maggie's dog, jumping in tandem.

"Same as usual, maybe a bit earlier, if we can. Now kiss and we're off."

Jake gave a butterfly kiss to Blair and an eskimo kiss to Jim, then with orders to take Puddles outside, he waved and ran for the back door.

"You've got your hands full today, Mags."

"Apparently, Blair. But we'll be pretty busy so don't worry."

"Worry? Us? Nah, never."

Maggie caught Jim's expression and grinned. "Right. No worries for you two. Get to work, I'll have him ready for you at the usual time...."

"Or earlier," Jim added with a grin.

"Or earlier."

 

***<><><>***

 

Mondays tended to be quiet for Major Crime and usually provided the perfect opportunity for catching up on paperwork. This Monday proved no different. As Blair typed, Jim typed. And across from them - Joel typed.  And next to him, Henri typed. Rafe was the only one *not* typing - he was filing. Megan was lucky, she was in court. The first day of the week was also famous for court appearances.

"Ah, Monday. Only the quiet of steady fingers on keyboards."  Simon glanced over at Henri and added, "Some slower than others. And I'm betting on a bevy of truly imaginative reports on my desk by the end of shift, right gentlemen?"

No one missed the fact  that the question and the glare were directed at the team of Ellison and Sandburg. Blair waved his hand dismissively, never even looking up from his computer screen and Jim kicked him under the desk.

"Detective Sandburg, were you addressing me? Your Captain?"

"No sir, I was... swatting at a gnat, sir."

A smothered guffaw from behind Simon did not go unnoticed. Simon leaned over Sandburg's desk and with both hands braced on the wooden top, he said cheerfully (much as a spider might speak to a fly), "I'm *sure* you'll have a brilliant explanation for the arrest of Lewis and Collins on Friday? For the *how's* of regarding the evidence-gathering skills of Ellison and Sandburg? *Right*, gentlemen?"

"Oh, right, sir. Absolutely. And it was simple, really. Jim just...."

"In writing, Sandburg. In writing." Simon straightened, patted his jacket pocket, found his keys and headed for his office. At the last minute he turned around and to Jim, said, "You *are* making your famous corn pudding for Wednesday, correct?"

The laughter in the bullpen could be heard all the way down the corridor.

 

***<><><>***

 

"Well that was fun. NOT."

"Aw, come on, Chief. You needed the exercise."

Blair shot him a withering look and snarled, "And why was I *alone* in running down Martin? How is it that you managed to escape not only clean, but with breath left over?"

"Um, because --- I took the truck?"

"Schmuck."

"Schmuck maybe, but a smart schmuck."

Blair tried to brush some of the caked mud from his jeans, but all he succeeded in doing was creating a dust storm. Which caused Jim to sneeze. Blair, grinning, brushed some more - harder.

"You are in so much trouble, Sandburg."

"Yadda, yadda. At least with this bust, I can be honest in writing the report. No obfuscations this time. Just plain old-fashioned detective work brought Martin down - and my incredibly fine tackle."

"Blair, *luck* brought Martin down. *And* the fact that you tripped on a tree root and flew three feet to smash into the man."

"I *jumped* over the root, Jim. And it wasn't luck that brought us to McMillan's for lunch."

"Oh really? So if not luck, what then?"

"Intuition. I just *knew* that if we ate at McMillan's, something would happen."

Jim looked over at his partner who was staring up at him, that smug grin on his face and Jim found himself wishing that they *weren't* surrounded by cops, in the middle of Exeter Avenue, during rush hour. He knew several truly wicked ways of wiping smug looks from his partner's face.  Oh yeah.

"Listen, Deacon Jones...."

"God, you're dating yourself, Jim."

"Listen, *smartass*, we still have a report to write, I have a partner to clean up and we have a son to take for his first swimming lesson. You wanna stop jabbering and get a move on?"

Blair started for the truck, muttering under his breath and Jim grinned.

It seemed Blair's plans included *jabbering* Jim - soon.

 

***<><><>***

 

"Where's your X-Men backpack, Jake?"

"oops!" The Jakester made a 180 and dashed back through the living room, into the hall, then into his own room whereupon Jim heard a delighted *whoop*, then the thundering herd of one returned to his side, the black backpack held aloft.

"found it, poppy!"

"Good thing, it has your swim trunks in it. Let's hit the road, Hoss.

Sandburg and swimming lessons await outside."

Minutes later, Jake was happily buckled in and chattering about his *swumming* lesson as Blair pulled the metallic blue Volvo C70 convertible away from the curb.

They had succeeded in picking Jake up early, as promised, only to discover that somehow Jake's backpack had been left at home that morning. With a groan from Jake, Blair had headed *back* to the Anjasmayo. But now, finally, they were on their way.

The drive to Belmont Plaza Pool was filled with questions by the passenger in the back, questions about holding his breath and how he could already hold it in the bathtub for *way many minutes* and that he could hold his breath for as long as a polar bear at least, maybe as long as a whale and he didn't even have a blow hole. Then he moved on to questions about the depth of the pool and how no way would he start out in the shallow end.

It seemed that Cherry had told him the shallow end was for sissies and as he informed his fathers, he was *ab-so-lut-leeee* no sissy, whereupon he received a lecture about the shallow end and how it would be quite sometime before he might be ready for the deep end and how there were *no* sissies.

Mr. Porter pouted for exactly fifteen seconds, the pout ending the moment they pulled into the parking lot.

Backpack fitted snugly to his shoulders, Mr. Porter preceeded his fathers into the pool, proud to tell anyone who asked that he was there for his first *swumming* lesson. A hand on his head propelled him in the direction of the locker rooms and nodding happily, he finally allowed himself to be led.

 

***<><><>***

 

"wait , wait, i havta take a *shower*? *before* i swum?"

"Fraid so, Jake." Blair held out his hand and Jake handed over his backpack, which now held his clothes. "why can't i take my x-men pack with me, daddy?"

"It goes in here," and Blair pointed out the locker. "See? The only thing you take on deck is your towel, your float and us. Oh, and you can wear your flip-flops."

Blair stuffed the backpack inside the locker where it rested alongside Jim's and Blair's street clothes. Sandburg closed it, pulled the key and holding it out to Jake, said, "You wanna keep this for us, Jake?"

Eyes wide and clearly saying, *yes, yes*, Jake put out his hand and grinning, Blair bent down and quickly *pinned* it to Jake's bright green and orange trunks.

"wow, kewl!"

"Okay, looks like Jim's ready, I'm ready, *you've* been ready since six this morning. Let's get wet and head to the pool."

Floppies flopping, Jake marched to the shower and waited expectantly.  Jim mimicked his march, joined him, reached up and turned on the shower while Blair took the one on Jim's left.

"anybudy but me think getting wet *before* getting wet is just plain silly?"

Chuckling, Jim spritzed water from his fingers into Jake's face, forcing the boy to retaliate in kind.

"Okay, children, the pool beckons."

Jim saluted his partner, as did Jake, and both followed Blair out onto the deck.

"daddy, why is it called a deck?"

Blair froze. Turned, then turned his stricken gaze at Jim, who mouthed, *damn*.

Thinking fast and spotting one of the pool's several lifeguards, Blair said, "Um, Jake? See that nice man in red trunks?" At Jake's nod, Blair suggested, "Why don't you ask him? He's called a Lifeguard and he knows all about *decks* and saving the lives of swimmers."

Naturally Jake started to *run* to the lifeguard, but was quickly pulled back by Blair.

"Uh, pardner? NO running on deck - EVER. It's a ruuuule and a good one.

The deck is slippery and you could hurt yourself or someone else. Okay?"

The concept of no running seemed to freeze Jake in his tracks - until he looked around him and found - absolutely nobody running. Not even the other children. He frowned but nodded his acceptance of the rule.

"never run on deck. i can do that. *will* do that." Then he walked sedately, sort of, to the tall, tan, blond lifeguard. Who didn't have the foggiest idea why the *deck* was called a deck.

Disappointment written all over his face, Jake returned to his parents.  Shaking his head sorrowfully, he said, "he didn't *know*, daddy. how can he save my life if he doesn't even *know*?"

Jim gave Blair his patented, *fix this* look which left Sandburg struggling to dredge up the answer from his cluttered mind. While he thought, Jim knelt before his son and said reassuringly, "He needs First Aid and Water Safety, Jake, in order to know how to save lives, but I don't think he has to know why this," he indicated the cement they were standing on, "is called a deck. But I'm betting daddy knows." He glanced up at his mate, a twinkle in his eye as he said, "Right, Chief?"

Flipping Jim off was Blair's preferred answer, but unfortunately Jake had turned around and now stood with upraised face, favoring his father with a shining expression of hope and expectance. Promising himself mentally to *get* Jim later, Blair took a deep breath and started in....

"Um, well, Jake, see, the flooring on a ship is called a deck, based on the dutch word *dekke* spelled, d-e-k-k-e, which meant *covering*.  *Dekke* is actually two words, *dek* or roof and *ecken* to cover. See?  The *roof cover* is what separated you from being *in* the ship, versus on *top* and walking around.

"Since this flat surface," like Jim had, Blair indicated the cement, watching as Jake's round blue eyes followed his hand, "surrounds the water, in this case, a pool, well, you can see why we've adopted the word *deck*. And just like on a boat, you can jump off the *deck* and into the water." Blair sighed heavily as he finished and flashed his son a bright smile - then waited.

Jake nodded sagely, then asked, "so i can't run on the deck of a ship either? or maggie's deck?"

Jim looked skyward, in this case seeing only the high ceiling of the indoor swimming pool, and started whistling.

"Um, no, Jake, it's not quite the same. Now turn around and look at the *deck* we're standing on. How is it different from Maggie's?"

Jake did as he was told while Blair pinched Jim, then Jake turned back and said, "it's alllllll wet."

"Right, this deck is wet. Kids jumping into the water, getting in and out, walking wet. And this material is very slippery, like our walkway in the winter. And if something is slippery...."

"and you run, you're gonna faaaaall!"

Smiling proudly, Blair nodded. "Yep. Exactly. Now on a boat, we wear special shoes, called *deck* shoes...."

"can i go swumming now, daddy?"

"Yeah, *daddy*, can we go *swumming* now?" Jim chimed in for emphasis.

Blair, just warming up to his dissertation on the subject of deck shoes, snorted, then with a grin, relented.

The building held two pools, one Olympic sized, the other a much smaller and shallower version that was adjacent but separated by two diving boards and one diving platform that climbed high into the air. As the three walked toward the smaller pool, Jake's eyes followed the huge diving tower up, eyes growing rounder with each level.

"daddy?"

"That's a diving platform, Jake. Here at the pool they hold competitions called *swim meets* and *diving meets*. Kids from about five on up compete, usually by joining clubs or teams. Belmont Plaza is host to the Cascade Dolphins, our own swimming and diving team."

The gleam that immediately sparkled in Jake's eyes told both Jim and Blair that somehow, at some point, they were going to be buying swim suits, towels and caps, all imprinted with the name; Cascade Dolphins.

'i'm gonna be a swummer. i am."

Smiling, they guided him to a long empty bench a few feet from the pool.  Jim set the towels down while Blair pulled the round bright yellow floater out of the plastic carryall they'd brought on deck. Sandburg sat on the bench and the moment Jim sat down beside him, Blair handed over the floater, a wicked gleam in his eye.

"Here you go, Jim. Start blowing."

Jim crossed his eyes at his mate, then - started blowing. Meanwhile, Jake crawled onto Blair's lap and watched his floater take shape as air was blown into it. When it was full and capped, Jim held it out proudly, announcing, "Ta-da!"

Slipping Jake's floppy's off his wiggling feet, Blair quipped, "Gee, Jim, you're just so magnificent, so much hot air and finally a place to...."

"Sandburg...." Jim warned, his lips twitching.

"So Jake," Blair said, completely ignoring Jim. "You ready to go in?"

"yup! let's do it!"

All three stood and with floater in hand, they walked to the stairs. By some unspoken agreement, Jim went in first while Blair and Jake stood on the first step.

"Okay, Hoss, this is how it goes down. I'm gonna carry you in and you and I are going to have some fun, you're going to show me how long you can hold your breath, then we'll put the floater on and you can take it from there. Okay?"

"'kay! up please."

Chuckling, Blair lifted him and after settling him on his hip, he stepped all the way down and into the pool. The water was a balmy 75 degrees and fortunately the smaller pool had only a few older children playing and swimming as well as a couple of older adults. Blair started toward Jim, who'd walked into the area of the pool that measured about three and a half feet in depth. He'd bent at the knees and had already ducked his head under water, then popped up, swiped the water from his face, and now watched Blair and Jake.

As Blair waded over, his hand gently splashing Jake, Jim realized that he'd never seen Blair swimming. Hell, he'd never even seen him in swim trunks. And man, what he'd been missing. The guy looked good enough to eat - which Jim felt he should probably do - later. With his hair tied back and the navy blue board shorts with the the white stripes down the side, shorts that hugged his hips, fitting so nicely over....

Jim decided to concentrate on Jake and his first *swumming* lesson.

"Okay, Jake, we're going to take a few practise holds first, then we'll do the real thing. Now this water isn't like at home, it's chlorinated...."

"klornated?"

"Um, it has chemicals in it to protect you because there are so many people in the water. Chlorine keeps the water clean and safe."

"like mr.bubbly?"

"Um, kind of. Okay, you ready for your first deep breath?" At a nod, Blair said, "Right then, on three, we both hold."

"long as i can?"

"Long as you can. One, two, three...."

Both took deep breaths and Jake's cheeks ballooned as he held. Several seconds later, his air rushed out and Blair immediately followed suit.

"Good job, Hoss. Let's do it two more times, than we'll really go under." With Jake's excited nod, Blair counted again and again they held. After the third time, Blair coached, "Now, when I take us under, Jake, I want you to open your eyes and look at me, okay?"

"'kay."

The water was warm enough that splashing a little on Jake to prepare him was all that was needed. Holding him close, Blair said, "All right, on three, we hold and I take us under. When you can't hold anymore, let all the air out and we'll come up. Ready?"

"go!"

"One... two... three!"

Holding their breaths, with Jim doing the same, Blair took them down.  Once under, Jake opened his eyes as promised and grinned, which caused him to expel all his breath.

Laughing, Blair and Jim popped back up with a blinking, sputtering Jake who was pushing curls away with both hands.

"Um, Jake? Next time, if you grin, keep your mouth closed, okay?"

Giggling, the boy nodded and said, "maybe i should practise *that*!"

Blair and Jake went under several more times, staying longer each time.  Jim, suddenly feeling strangely uncomfortable, leaned against the side of the pool and watched, frowning.

Unaware of Jim's anxiety, Blair, on their fifth try, moved around once they were under, letting Jake get used to movement, and watching as he tried to see. His grip was firm but trusting and Jake clearly loved every minute of it.

When they came up again, Jim, at a signal from Sandburg, grabbed the floater and brought it back. Suddenly, Mr. Porter wasn't so keen on using it.

"do i have to, daddy? wear that? nobody else has one...."

"Well, Jake, no one else is four. And no one else is learning how to swim tonight. So yes, you *have* to wear it. Arms up, young man."

Pouting, Jake held up his arms and Jim slipped the floater over and down until it fit snugly around Jake's waist. As soon as it was in place, Blair let go.

The surprise of being in the water, bolstered by the yellow tube stunned Jake into speechlessness. Then, like a natural, he began to kick. And move. Fast.

"daddy! poppy! look at me!"

"Use your arms too, Jake. Like a scooper. Cup your hands and keep your fingers tight togther...."

Jake did as instructed and in seconds, he was moving even faster, paddling like a puppy and yelling joyously.

Both men had to swim to catch up to him, but then spent several minutes watching, splashing and chasing and the knot in Jim's stomach seemed to fade with Jake's increasing joy. When they'd been in the water over thirty minutes, a voice boomed from a loudspeaker.

"All swimmers must leave the main pool which closes in fifteen minutes.

Please begin to exit the pool. Thank you."

Jake stopped kicking and bobbing along as he cried out, "we have to leave? we have to, daddy?"

"No, Hoss, we don't. They're clearing out the big pool because in thirty minutes, the swim team comes in and starts practising. We're fine in here."

On cue, several lifeguards began to drop long lines of blue and white buoys in the water and then jumping in after them, grabbing the end line and swimming to the other end of the pool where they hooked the lines into the gutter.

Jake immediately started kicking until he reached Jim, then asked, "up, poppy? can i see?"

Removing the tube and handing it off to Blair, Jim hefted Jake onto his shoulders so the boy could watch.

"what are they doing, daddy?"

"Those are lanelines, Jake. So the swimmers each have a competition lane to swim in. When they start, you'll see maybe five or ten in each lane and they'll start doing what's called *laps*. Some will be for warm-up, some will be timed and all will be in sets."

"'splain *sets*."

"Yeah, daddy, 'splain *sets*."

Cupping his hand and hitting the water, Blair sent a small wave into Jim's face, then smiling innocently, went on.

"They might be told to do, say, four laps of the pool - five times, with minute intervals. See the big clock they're bringing on deck?"

Both Jim and Jake nodded, Jim as interested in this as his son.

"Well, it will be started, the swimmers will take off and after four laps, they'll wait, watch the clock and after a minute, will start another set. See?"

"why?"

"Several reasons, Jake. One, to build stamina, two, to learn how to time themselves and three, to challenge themselves. See, in swimming, you're racing not only against fellow swimmers, but also the clock. Swimming is a timed sport, with each event having a *fastest* time and swimmers trying to *beat* it."

"how do they get the fastest time?"

"Someone like you, sets it. A swimmer in a race sets a fast time, he or she wins, and maybe that time stands for weeks or months or even years before someone breaks it and becomes the new record holder."

Saucer-wide eyes blinked as Jake breathed out an awed, *wow*.

"Yeah," Jim agreed as he tugged one of Jake's legs, "Wow."

 

**<~~~~

 

The rest of the lesson flew by as Jake got the chance to be a Sea World attraction by hanging on to his daddy's neck with one arm while Blair, pretending to be Shamu, swam from one length of the small pool to the other, Jake holding on for dear life and giggling madly as his body bumped and bounced off of Blair's. As Jim watched his partner's strokes, he realized why Sandburg knew so much about swimming - he swam like a pro. A pro with a four-year old on his back, but a pro nevertheless.

The highlight of the lesson was the moment when the yellow tube was discarded, temporarily, and floating on Blair's outstretched arms, Jake got to *swim* toward Jim. Small, pale arms stroked crazily as equally pale, skinny legs kicked wildly. Jake never noticed when Blair let him *slide* from his arms and seconds later, a jubilant Jim lifted the boy from the water with a loud *yoohaw!* and raised him above his head to wild clapping from Blair.

"Hoss, you're a natural!"

"am i, poppy? am i? will i be good? did i do good?"

"You did great, Jake." Then turning to Blair, Jim asked, "So when's the next lesson? And what happens next?"

"Well, tomorrow would be good. Right, Jake?"

"tomorrow! yippee!"

"Tomorrow it is and on the agenda, you, my little guppy, will learn to... float!"

Blair missed the sudden pallor of Jim's face as he was too busy trying to avoid Jake, who was attempting to bite the finger that Blair had tapped on his nose.

Giving himself a mental shake, Jim said, "Come on, guys, time to get out, grab some grub and head home."

 

***~~~~~~~~

 

While Jake's natural inclination was to run back to the locker room, he held back and *walked*, ever mindful of the wet decking. It was hard, but he did it. Once inside the locker room, he was treated to a shower with his fathers, all still in their trunks and they had almost as much fun with the shampoo as Jake had experienced in the pool. He got to help his daddy shampoo his hair while poppy shampooed his blond curls.

One hair dryer and several minutes later, Jake had semi-dry hair, was out of his wet trunks and into warm sweat pants, a red and yellow striped shirt and his hooded jacket. His flip-flops were removed and replaced by warm socks and his ratty white tennis shoes.

While Jake sat on a bench, squeezing the air out of his floater, Jim and Blair took turns in a changing room as they listened to Jake's chatter.

Once back into street clothes and Blair's damp hair tied back, they packed up the wet towels and trunks, returned the locker key and headed out. Back on deck, the swim practise was in full swing.

"can we watch, pretty please?"

Sandburg looked up at Jim, who shrugged and said, "There's a food stand just outside, still open. Why not make a treat of it? I'll go get the food and you two find some seats on the bleachers?"

Jake gazed adoringly from one to the other, then said, "bleachurs?"

Jim grinned and said, "I'll take that as a yes. While I get the food, daddy will 'splain *bleachers*...."

"Jim...."

But Jim was already jogging toward the exit.

"daddy? bleachurs?"

Eyes crossing, Blair took Jake's hand and started for the - stands.

"Well see, they were just wooden stands, like at a baseball game, and in the sun the wood would be bleached white by the heat...."

 

***<><><>***

 

"Is he asleep?"

"Oh, yeah, Chief. Sound. He is one waterlogged guppy, my little guppy."

Jim sat down beside Blair and immediately began to nibble an ear.

"Aw, man...."

As Jim's mouth suckled a lobe, Blair's fingers were unbuttoning Jim's shirt....

"where did you learn to swim, chief? Jim managed as he moved his attention to Blair's neck.

"oh, the usual. one of mom's boyfriends - a swim coach...." Blair's hands were traveling over Jim's chest, rubbing across the broad expanse of skin....

"so you were on a swim team?" Jim mumbled into heated skin.

"um, yeah. loved it, was the only sport i was really," Blair stopped, moaned, then went on....

"good at...."

"what about," Jim licked across Blair's jaw, "basketball?"

"get real - that was an obfuscation to get him to play with... us and don't stop, keep doing... that...."

"but you're," Jim tugged with his teeth and pulled at Blair's lower lip, "good at it...."

"well, sure, *now*... mmm, oh, yeah, that's good...."

"so, set any records in swimming? win any medals?"

"uh... oh, hey, wow, that's - different... um, medals? oh, yeah. held the 100 meter freestyle record at a tri-city meet for one week...."

"i knew when i first called you my little guppy, i was... right on the money...."

Jim slid down Blair's body, his fingers tugging at the younger man's jeans....

"yeah, yeah, that's me - a guppy, but all...oh yeah jim... but all grown... up... now...."

Staring at Blair's dick, now freed, Jim nodded happily. "oh, yeah, all grown up --- and out."

Chuckling, Blair said, "oh i'm out all right. all the way...."

Then he yelped as Jim went down on him - all the way....

As Jim pushed his and Blair's way into Major

Crime, Rafe immediately stood and said the dreaded words, "He wants you - *now*. And you guys are late."

"We're early, Rafe, but who asked you?" Blair replied with a grin. "You our gatekeeper now?"

"Only when Simon takes his anger out on me - because you guys aren't here yet."

Blair glanced up at Jim and eyes round, said, "Uh-oh. What did you do now, Jim?"

Ellison pretended to give it some thought, then cracked wise with, "Um, maybe it was the fact that I glued his cigar to his desk?"

"That would do it, all right. In that case, he's all yours, Jim. I'll just stay behind...."

"Sandburg? Would you mind gracing my office with your overwhelming presence?"

Simon stood at the door to his office, his voice soft, his eyes hard.  Blair didn't bother looking up at his partner, instead moving forward, immediately worried about his Captain. Jim started to join him, but Blair waved him off.

As soon as Blair stepped past him, Simon shut the door, indicated Blair's usual seat and after the detective took the chair, Simon perched on the edge of his desk.

"What's wrong, Simon?"

"Daryl's what's wrong, Sandburg. Just when were you going to tell me about his asking to move into the available apartment at the Anjasmayo?"

Blair blinked up at his boss, surprised by both the anger and the news.

He *hadn't* known about Daryl.

"Simon, I'm confused. I'm not the manager, John Holder is and I'm not aware of Dar...."

"Did you or did you not mention to him that an apartment was open?"

"I'm not sure... maybe, but...."

"I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from sharing that kind of information with *my* son in the future, Sandburg. He's *not* moving out, he *just* moved back with me now that he's attending Rainier in the fall. Is that clear?"

For a moment, Blair could only stare at his boss - and friend. Okay, he was a father himself now and could understand Simon's desire to keep Daryl with him, at least a while longer, but the hardness of Simon's request, the anger directed at him... that he was finding very hard to take. Or understand.

Slowly Blair stood, knowing that he had to be careful and glad that Jim was *not* listening thanks to a promise made months ago.

"I don't deserve this, Simon. If you have something to say about Daryl and his possible desire to move out - I suggest you say it to him, not me. I'll also assume that this was between two friends," he stressed the word *friends*, "and not Captain to Detective." Then Blair turned, walked to the door, opened it and stepped out, closing said door softly behind him.

As Blair approached his desk, he smiled and shrugged as Jim shot him a questioning look.

"Hey, he just needed my sound advice on something, Jim. You know how indispensible I am around here."

Glad that he'd become an expert in schooling his emotions from his sentinel, partner, lover and best friend, Blair sat down and immediately reached for a folder, opened it and started reading.

Jim watched his partner, a small frown creasing his forehead. The words, the body, the expression, all said that the meeting with Simon had been just that; one man seeking the advice of another, but... something about Blair, maybe the *choice* of wording, screamed a different answer. But Jim Ellison was a patient man, and all things came to those who waited - so he'd wait.

The rest of the day was as to be expected for the men and women of Major Crime - it was, after all, one day before the Fourth. There were frantic calls about explosions, stolen fireworks tracked down before lunch, and to top it off, an entire fireworks stand had *supposedly* disappeared.

Because Rafe and Henri were tracking down witnesses to a shooting at the train station and Conner was in court, Simon turned the disappearing fireworks stand over to the team of Ellison and Sandburg. A case that should have gone to Burglary. But the stand was one of the many *trailer* stands that dotted the landscape in late June and early July and belonged to the Boy Scouts of America. In this case, the stand was sponsored by Troop 348 and the mayor's son was a member.

After an afternoon of good old fashioned legwork and Jim's senses picking up the trail of tire tracks and the smell of bubble gum, the two detectives discovered that four kids, ages twelve to sixteen, with help from two members of Troop 348, had hooked the stand up to the sixteen year old's truck, and driven it off while the sellers were at lunch.

It seemed the kids were protesting the Boy Scouts ruling against allowing gays to join their ranks and thought that no one should purchase fireworks from their stand. By the end of the day, the children had been turned over to their parents and the Boy Scouts were refusing to press charges, wisely realizing that they couldn't afford anymore bad publicity.

Simon had remained in his office, door closed, and by the time Jim and Blair had returned from solving the earth shattering and long to be remembered *Case of the Missing Fireworks Stand*, Simon was gone. For the day.

As Blair stared at the closed door, he squashed down his disappointment and started worrying about tomorrow's plans. If Simon remained angry, well, there'd be no way it could be hidden from Jim. Or anyone else for that matter. He shoved his concerns down and prepared for going home, picking up their son and enjoying swimming lesson number two, followed by the preparation of some of the picnic food for tomorrow.

 

***<><><>***

 

"It's a swim meet. Even the small pool isn't open tonight."

"daddy?" Jake questioned as he looked from one father to the other. They were standing in front of Belmont Plaza Pool and from inside could be heard the loud cheering from excited parents and swimmers.

Blair glanced down and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Hoss, but you heard Jim. Looks like lesson number two will have to wait."

Jake looked from his parents to the steam covered windows of the building that held *his* pool. Kids were going in and out, all of them wearing different colored sweats with all kinds of writing on the back, many of the kids with wet heads, all of them laughing and energetic. He wanted to join them - to watch them.

"can we watch, daddy? poppy?"

Together, Jim and Blair said, "Why not?" And laughing, all three walked to the entrance where Jim forked over the six dollar admission fee, assured that in doing so, he was helping to fund the Cascade Dolphins.  As they walked in, Blair said under his breath, "hey, why not? we're probably funding *jake* for the future."

Agreeing, Jim walked in as Blair held open the door. They quickly found seats in the third row of the center bleachers, about halfway down the length of the pool. The air smelled heavily of chlorine and Blair had to remind Jim to turn everything down.

All around them, kids in Speedos and/or sweats sat, lounged or walked.  Parents clapped and cheered and overhead, red, white and blue flags were stretched from one end of the building to the other. Jake was settled on Jim's lap and silently watched everything, his head and eyes seeming to be everywhere at once.

"daddy, lookee, a tent!" he exclaimed, pointing across the pool at another set of bleachers.

"Yep, the kids all pick out different spots and their team congregates there to rest between events. See, another tent over there, by the diving platform."

Jake nodded, eyes wide with excitement, his legs bouncing against Jim's.

"how many teams, daddy?"

Blair looked up at the scoreboard and answered, "Looks like about twenty, Jake. This is a big swim meet. And look over there, on the other side of our small pool," he indicated another tent, this one bright blue and flying a flag that proudly proclaimed, *Cascade Dolphins*.

"See? That's *our* team."

"the dofins," Jake breathed out in awe.

"Yep, the Cascade Dolphins. And according to the big scoreboard over there, we're ahead."

"ahead?"

"Yep. This is a team competiton too, Jake. And for every first, second and third place your teammates score, your team wins points. Sometimes the points can be for up to an eight place finish."

"and we're ahead?"

"Yep."

"yippee!"

The next two hours were loud, fun and exciting as they watched several heats of the Men's and Women's 100 Meter Breastroke. They cheered madly everytime the loudspeaker announced that one of the swimmers on the block was a Dolphin and they screamed when a Dolphin won a heat. They were all disappointed when it was discovered that the Finals were scheduled for later that evening, at eight. Jake was surprisingly understanding though when it was decided that they couldn't stay. Of course, both Jim and Blair were quite sure that Jake's acceptance when they had to leave had a great deal to do with the fact that it had been promised that on Friday, the last day of the meet, they'd return for the Finals.

 

***<><><>***

 

Jim was frying up the chicken, which had been marinating in buttermilk since the previous evening, while Blair and Jake made the potato salad.  As Blair chopped first the pickles, then the olives and eggs, Jake gleefully scooped them up and bombed the potatoes. Blair couldn't fail to notice that while *all* of the pickles and *all* of the olives made it to the bowl, a good quarter of the chopped egg made it only as far as Jake's mouth.

"Okay, you ready to do the bacon, my main man?"

"yup! bring it on, daddy!"

Blair handed over eight strips of now cooled but crunchy bacon and Jake pounded into it with all the energy of an excited four year old. When he was done, he *bombed* the potatoes one final time.

Once everything was mixed in with the potatoes, Blair added the sour cream-mayonnaise mixture, letting Jake do the stirring. When Jake pronounced it *mixed*, Blair added the salt and pepper to taste. When it met his standards, Blair covered the mixture and put it into the refrigerator, along with Jim's corn pudding that had been made earlier.

The chicken was done and draining, so Jim was immediately recruited to cook the Bird's Custard for the trifle.

While Jim stirred the custard, Blair sliced strawberries, added a small amount of sugar, then put the bowl into the fridge until tomorrow. When the custard was finished and cooling and everything ready that could be made ready, the *men* took it into the living room.

As they settled in, Blair said, "So Jake, before bed, a story or would you rather go and play for a little while?"

"story. must have story!"

Jim stood before the bookcase, his finger running down some titles....

"What will it be, Master Jake? A little Dr. Suess? Or...."

"real story, must have a real story! firework story, poppy!"

Jim swung the pajama-clad and still strawberry sticky Jake into his arms and walked to the couch where he dropped down beside Blair.  "So, a firework story, eh? Well, I do believe I have just the one. About me and Uncle Steven and one Roman Candle. You ready?"

Resting his head against his poppy's chest, Jake snuggled in, grabbed his daddy's hand and said, "all ready!"

"Okay then. This was in 1971 and I was eight years old...."

"you were *big*!"

"Yep, and almost nine. Stevie was six and he couldn't wait for the Fourth. He loved the fireworks and the fun. Anyway, my best friend, Stanley, also almost nine, had a big brother named Marshall and Marshall, who was fifteen, had hidden a whole box of fireworks under his bed. Well, Stanley thought *he* should have some under *his* bed, so he raided the box and took one of the Roman Candles."

"uh-oh."

"Jake, methinks you have figured where this is going, eh?"

"tell, tell...."

"Right. Anyway, I went over to his house on the third and I had to bring Stevie and Stanley showed us the candle. Naturally Stevie wanted to light it right away, but being the good older brother, I said no. Then Stanley and I went downstairs to get some cookies...."

"uh-oh."

"Yep, uh-oh, because it seemed that Stanley had incense in his room *and* matches. And Stevie found the matches. Big uh-oh. Now remember, he was only six so it never occured him to take the darn thing out from under the bed, which turned out to be a very good thing.

"Anyway, somehow, he managed to light a match, something he'd never done in his life *and* he was on his knees, *and* under the bed at the time, but he still did it and lit the candle."

"uh-oh. ka-boom?"

"Well, not exactly ka-boom, no. The candle had a long fuse and Stevie was so excited by what he'd done that he ran downstairs to tell us. I dropped my cookies and ran up just as the candle went off."

"what did it look like, poppy?"

"Well, like a really big... uh-oh."

"oops."

"Yep, exactly. Oops. Sparks were flying out from under the bed, the candle was whistling and Stanley and Stevie thudded into me, quickly followed by Stanley's mother, father, two older sisters and of course - Marshall."

"what happened next?"

"The candle finished its run, nothing caught on fire because the bed had plastic covers on it, like all the rest of the furniture...."

"You must have been in heaven at Stanley's house, Jim," Blair teased.

"Oh yeah. You had to take your shoes off before you went into their home. They even had plastic runners on the floor. Anyway, thanks to the plastic, no fire. Just a really pretty bedroom for about 28 seconds."

Jake giggled and said, "silly uncal stevie."

"*Lucky* Uncle Stevie," Blair amended.

"lucky - no boom!"

Jim tickled his son, who giggled and tried to bat the treacherous fingers away. "And young man, if you were faced with the same temptation, what would you do?" Jim asked as he continued to tickle.

"never play with matches - never, never ever."

"Amen," Blair added with a smile.

 

***<><><>**

 

"He's so damn bright, Blair."

"He trusts us right now, Jim. We're his whole world. The difference will be when he starts school and is suddenly surrounded by his peers. *Then* we'll know if we've taught him well."

"You worried?"

Grinning, Blair tossed a pillow at Jim as together they began to get the bed ready for sleep.

"Nah, not worried. You're a great father, he's loved to within an inch of his life, he's surrounded by people who love him and teach him, nah, I'm not worried. Much."

As the bedspread was folded neatly by Jim and placed on the stool at the end of the bed, he looked at his lover and asked, "Do you think he's spoiled? Have we spoiled him?"

"Gee, I don't know, Jim. Do we give him everything he wants?"

"Hardly."

"Do we say no to him?"

"Constantly."

"Does he have temper tantrums on any regular basis?"

"Jake? You're kidding, right?"

"And when we're not around, how does he behave?"

"Well, according to Maggie and Makeba, he's... oh, I get it. No, he's not spoiled. Okay, point taken."

"He isn't, but he *is* loved, constantly and told continually. We're both physically and verbally demonstrative and he feels safe. In that - he's spoiled rotten."

"Damn but you're smart."

"Nope, but facts are facts. And let's face it, Karen," his voice hitched a bit, "was wonderful for him and with him. She was the first to give him a sense of security and unconditional love. We're just carrying on what she started."

"You know, Mr. Sandburg, I love you."

"That's good, cause I love you too. Always nice when two parents love one another, don't you think?"

"Jerk."

"Uh-huh."

"Bed seems to be ready."

"So it is."

"We should get in it, the Fourth comes mighty early, which means we'll be bombarded by Jake at the crack of dawn."

"That all you want to do? Get *in* it?"

"I think that's more than enough, don't you? I *love* getting in *it*."

Laughing, Blair jumped into bed, bounced on his back and wiggled one finger. "So? Whatcha waiting for, Christmas? Let's get you *in*."

 

As Jim pushed his and Blair's way into Major

Crime, Rafe immediately stood and said the dreaded words, "He wants you - *now*. And you guys are late."

"We're early, Rafe, but who asked you?" Blair replied with a grin. "You our gatekeeper now?"

"Only when Simon takes his anger out on me - because you guys aren't here yet."

Blair glanced up at Jim and eyes round, said, "Uh-oh. What did you do now, Jim?"

Ellison pretended to give it some thought, then cracked wise with, "Um, maybe it was the fact that I glued his cigar to his desk?"

"That would do it, all right. In that case, he's all yours, Jim. I'll just stay behind...."

"Sandburg? Would you mind gracing my office with your overwhelming presence?"

Simon stood at the door to his office, his voice soft, his eyes hard.  Blair didn't bother looking up at his partner, instead moving forward, immediately worried about his Captain. Jim started to join him, but Blair waved him off.

As soon as Blair stepped past him, Simon shut the door, indicated Blair's usual seat and after the detective took the chair, Simon perched on the edge of his desk.

"What's wrong, Simon?"

"Daryl's what's wrong, Sandburg. Just when were you going to tell me about his asking to move into the available apartment at the Anjasmayo?"

Blair blinked up at his boss, surprised by both the anger and the news.

He *hadn't* known about Daryl.

"Simon, I'm confused. I'm not the manager, John Holder is and I'm not aware of Dar...."

"Did you or did you not mention to him that an apartment was open?"

"I'm not sure... maybe, but...."

"I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from sharing that kind of information with *my* son in the future, Sandburg. He's *not* moving out, he *just* moved back with me now that he's attending Rainier in the fall. Is that clear?"

For a moment, Blair could only stare at his boss - and friend. Okay, he was a father himself now and could understand Simon's desire to keep Daryl with him, at least a while longer, but the hardness of Simon's request, the anger directed at him... that he was finding very hard to take. Or understand.

Slowly Blair stood, knowing that he had to be careful and glad that Jim was *not* listening thanks to a promise made months ago.

"I don't deserve this, Simon. If you have something to say about Daryl and his possible desire to move out - I suggest you say it to him, not me. I'll also assume that this was between two friends," he stressed the word *friends*, "and not Captain to Detective." Then Blair turned, walked to the door, opened it and stepped out, closing said door softly behind him.

As Blair approached his desk, he smiled and shrugged as Jim shot him a questioning look.

"Hey, he just needed my sound advice on something, Jim. You know how indispensible I am around here."

Glad that he'd become an expert in schooling his emotions from his sentinel, partner, lover and best friend, Blair sat down and immediately reached for a folder, opened it and started reading.

Jim watched his partner, a small frown creasing his forehead. The words, the body, the expression, all said that the meeting with Simon had been just that; one man seeking the advice of another, but... something about Blair, maybe the *choice* of wording, screamed a different answer. But Jim Ellison was a patient man, and all things came to those who waited - so he'd wait.

The rest of the day was as to be expected for the men and women of Major Crime - it was, after all, one day before the Fourth. There were frantic calls about explosions, stolen fireworks tracked down before lunch, and to top it off, an entire fireworks stand had *supposedly* disappeared.

Because Rafe and Henri were tracking down witnesses to a shooting at the train station and Conner was in court, Simon turned the disappearing fireworks stand over to the team of Ellison and Sandburg. A case that should have gone to Burglary. But the stand was one of the many *trailer* stands that dotted the landscape in late June and early July and belonged to the Boy Scouts of America. In this case, the stand was sponsored by Troop 348 and the mayor's son was a member.

After an afternoon of good old fashioned legwork and Jim's senses picking up the trail of tire tracks and the smell of bubble gum, the two detectives discovered that four kids, ages twelve to sixteen, with help from two members of Troop 348, had hooked the stand up to the sixteen year old's truck, and driven it off while the sellers were at lunch.

It seemed the kids were protesting the Boy Scouts ruling against allowing gays to join their ranks and thought that no one should purchase fireworks from their stand. By the end of the day, the children had been turned over to their parents and the Boy Scouts were refusing to press charges, wisely realizing that they couldn't afford anymore bad publicity.

Simon had remained in his office, door closed, and by the time Jim and Blair had returned from solving the earth shattering and long to be remembered *Case of the Missing Fireworks Stand*, Simon was gone. For the day.

As Blair stared at the closed door, he squashed down his disappointment and started worrying about tomorrow's plans. If Simon remained angry, well, there'd be no way it could be hidden from Jim. Or anyone else for that matter. He shoved his concerns down and prepared for going home, picking up their son and enjoying swimming lesson number two, followed by the preparation of some of the picnic food for tomorrow.

 

***<><><>***

 

"It's a swim meet. Even the small pool isn't open tonight."

"daddy?" Jake questioned as he looked from one father to the other. They were standing in front of Belmont Plaza Pool and from inside could be heard the loud cheering from excited parents and swimmers.

Blair glanced down and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Hoss, but you heard Jim. Looks like lesson number two will have to wait."

Jake looked from his parents to the steam covered windows of the building that held *his* pool. Kids were going in and out, all of them wearing different colored sweats with all kinds of writing on the back, many of the kids with wet heads, all of them laughing and energetic. He wanted to join them - to watch them.

"can we watch, daddy? poppy?"

Together, Jim and Blair said, "Why not?" And laughing, all three walked to the entrance where Jim forked over the six dollar admission fee, assured that in doing so, he was helping to fund the Cascade Dolphins.  As they walked in, Blair said under his breath, "hey, why not? we're probably funding *jake* for the future."

Agreeing, Jim walked in as Blair held open the door. They quickly found seats in the third row of the center bleachers, about halfway down the length of the pool. The air smelled heavily of chlorine and Blair had to remind Jim to turn everything down.

All around them, kids in Speedos and/or sweats sat, lounged or walked.  Parents clapped and cheered and overhead, red, white and blue flags were stretched from one end of the building to the other. Jake was settled on Jim's lap and silently watched everything, his head and eyes seeming to be everywhere at once.

"daddy, lookee, a tent!" he exclaimed, pointing across the pool at another set of bleachers.

"Yep, the kids all pick out different spots and their team congregates there to rest between events. See, another tent over there, by the diving platform."

Jake nodded, eyes wide with excitement, his legs bouncing against Jim's.

"how many teams, daddy?"

Blair looked up at the scoreboard and answered, "Looks like about twenty, Jake. This is a big swim meet. And look over there, on the other side of our small pool," he indicated another tent, this one bright blue and flying a flag that proudly proclaimed, *Cascade Dolphins*.

"See? That's *our* team."

"the dofins," Jake breathed out in awe.

"Yep, the Cascade Dolphins. And according to the big scoreboard over there, we're ahead."

"ahead?"

"Yep. This is a team competiton too, Jake. And for every first, second and third place your teammates score, your team wins points. Sometimes the points can be for up to an eight place finish."

"and we're ahead?"

"Yep."

"yippee!"

The next two hours were loud, fun and exciting as they watched several heats of the Men's and Women's 100 Meter Breastroke. They cheered madly everytime the loudspeaker announced that one of the swimmers on the block was a Dolphin and they screamed when a Dolphin won a heat. They were all disappointed when it was discovered that the Finals were scheduled for later that evening, at eight. Jake was surprisingly understanding though when it was decided that they couldn't stay. Of course, both Jim and Blair were quite sure that Jake's acceptance when they had to leave had a great deal to do with the fact that it had been promised that on Friday, the last day of the meet, they'd return for the Finals.

 

***<><><>***

 

Jim was frying up the chicken, which had been marinating in buttermilk since the previous evening, while Blair and Jake made the potato salad.  As Blair chopped first the pickles, then the olives and eggs, Jake gleefully scooped them up and bombed the potatoes. Blair couldn't fail to notice that while *all* of the pickles and *all* of the olives made it to the bowl, a good quarter of the chopped egg made it only as far as Jake's mouth.

"Okay, you ready to do the bacon, my main man?"

"yup! bring it on, daddy!"

Blair handed over eight strips of now cooled but crunchy bacon and Jake pounded into it with all the energy of an excited four year old. When he was done, he *bombed* the potatoes one final time.

Once everything was mixed in with the potatoes, Blair added the sour cream-mayonnaise mixture, letting Jake do the stirring. When Jake pronounced it *mixed*, Blair added the salt and pepper to taste. When it met his standards, Blair covered the mixture and put it into the refrigerator, along with Jim's corn pudding that had been made earlier.

The chicken was done and draining, so Jim was immediately recruited to cook the Bird's Custard for the trifle.

While Jim stirred the custard, Blair sliced strawberries, added a small amount of sugar, then put the bowl into the fridge until tomorrow. When the custard was finished and cooling and everything ready that could be made ready, the *men* took it into the living room.

As they settled in, Blair said, "So Jake, before bed, a story or would you rather go and play for a little while?"

"story. must have story!"

Jim stood before the bookcase, his finger running down some titles....

"What will it be, Master Jake? A little Dr. Suess? Or...."

"real story, must have a real story! firework story, poppy!"

Jim swung the pajama-clad and still strawberry sticky Jake into his arms and walked to the couch where he dropped down beside Blair.  "So, a firework story, eh? Well, I do believe I have just the one. About me and Uncle Steven and one Roman Candle. You ready?"

Resting his head against his poppy's chest, Jake snuggled in, grabbed his daddy's hand and said, "all ready!"

"Okay then. This was in 1971 and I was eight years old...."

"you were *big*!"

"Yep, and almost nine. Stevie was six and he couldn't wait for the Fourth. He loved the fireworks and the fun. Anyway, my best friend, Stanley, also almost nine, had a big brother named Marshall and Marshall, who was fifteen, had hidden a whole box of fireworks under his bed. Well, Stanley thought *he* should have some under *his* bed, so he raided the box and took one of the Roman Candles."

"uh-oh."

"Jake, methinks you have figured where this is going, eh?"

"tell, tell...."

"Right. Anyway, I went over to his house on the third and I had to bring Stevie and Stanley showed us the candle. Naturally Stevie wanted to light it right away, but being the good older brother, I said no. Then Stanley and I went downstairs to get some cookies...."

"uh-oh."

"Yep, uh-oh, because it seemed that Stanley had incense in his room *and* matches. And Stevie found the matches. Big uh-oh. Now remember, he was only six so it never occured him to take the darn thing out from under the bed, which turned out to be a very good thing.

"Anyway, somehow, he managed to light a match, something he'd never done in his life *and* he was on his knees, *and* under the bed at the time, but he still did it and lit the candle."

"uh-oh. ka-boom?"

"Well, not exactly ka-boom, no. The candle had a long fuse and Stevie was so excited by what he'd done that he ran downstairs to tell us. I dropped my cookies and ran up just as the candle went off."

"what did it look like, poppy?"

"Well, like a really big... uh-oh."

"oops."

"Yep, exactly. Oops. Sparks were flying out from under the bed, the candle was whistling and Stanley and Stevie thudded into me, quickly followed by Stanley's mother, father, two older sisters and of course - Marshall."

"what happened next?"

"The candle finished its run, nothing caught on fire because the bed had plastic covers on it, like all the rest of the furniture...."

"You must have been in heaven at Stanley's house, Jim," Blair teased.

"Oh yeah. You had to take your shoes off before you went into their home. They even had plastic runners on the floor. Anyway, thanks to the plastic, no fire. Just a really pretty bedroom for about 28 seconds."

Jake giggled and said, "silly uncal stevie."

"*Lucky* Uncle Stevie," Blair amended.

"lucky - no boom!"

Jim tickled his son, who giggled and tried to bat the treacherous fingers away. "And young man, if you were faced with the same temptation, what would you do?" Jim asked as he continued to tickle.

"never play with matches - never, never ever."

"Amen," Blair added with a smile.

 

***<><><>**

 

"He's so damn bright, Blair."

"He trusts us right now, Jim. We're his whole world. The difference will be when he starts school and is suddenly surrounded by his peers. *Then* we'll know if we've taught him well."

"You worried?"

Grinning, Blair tossed a pillow at Jim as together they began to get the bed ready for sleep.

"Nah, not worried. You're a great father, he's loved to within an inch of his life, he's surrounded by people who love him and teach him, nah, I'm not worried. Much."

As the bedspread was folded neatly by Jim and placed on the stool at the end of the bed, he looked at his lover and asked, "Do you think he's spoiled? Have we spoiled him?"

"Gee, I don't know, Jim. Do we give him everything he wants?"

"Hardly."

"Do we say no to him?"

"Constantly."

"Does he have temper tantrums on any regular basis?"

"Jake? You're kidding, right?"

"And when we're not around, how does he behave?"

"Well, according to Maggie and Makeba, he's... oh, I get it. No, he's not spoiled. Okay, point taken."

"He isn't, but he *is* loved, constantly and told continually. We're both physically and verbally demonstrative and he feels safe. In that - he's spoiled rotten."

"Damn but you're smart."

"Nope, but facts are facts. And let's face it, Karen," his voice hitched a bit, "was wonderful for him and with him. She was the first to give him a sense of security and unconditional love. We're just carrying on what she started."

"You know, Mr. Sandburg, I love you."

"That's good, cause I love you too. Always nice when two parents love one another, don't you think?"

"Jerk."

"Uh-huh."

"Bed seems to be ready."

"So it is."

"We should get in it, the Fourth comes mighty early, which means we'll be bombarded by Jake at the crack of dawn."

"That all you want to do? Get *in* it?"

"I think that's more than enough, don't you? I *love* getting in *it*."

Laughing, Blair jumped into bed, bounced on his back and wiggled one finger. "So? Whatcha waiting for, Christmas? Let's get you *in*."

"time to go! time to go! wake up, daddy, poppy!"

Groaning, Blair turned over, hit Jim's arm and cracked open one eye. He spotted a laughing Jake, face shining in aniticipation and groaned again. Jake giggled and double-bounced.

"upsey, must get upsey!"

"jake, sweetheart," Blair pleaded, "most bestest son, most favorite four year old in the whole world, it's six in the morning. go back to bed."

"six? only six?" Crestfallen, Jake deflated like a balloon that had been hanging around for two days.

Jim sat up, smiled at Jake and with a questioning eyebrow at Blair, who nodded, Jim threw back the covers and the sun came out on Jake's face.  Bounding over, he immediately crawled in under the blankets, snuggled down and once comfortable, a ritual not unlike that of a puppy circling until the nest was just right, he asked brightly, "so when *do* we go pikniking?"

Rolling onto his side and propping his head on his hand, Blair said, "Well, we sleep for at *least* two more hours - or *more*, then we get up, have breakfast, goof around awhile, maybe *not* go to the park at all, maybe just stay here and nap and read and...."

"*da-deeeee*!"

"What?" Blair said, winking at Jim.

"not stay here, not *at all*! must go to park, ab-so-lut-leeee!"

"Ya think?" Jim asked.

"i think! i think!"

"Well, o-kay, if you insist. But first - *more* sleep."

"but, but, what time *do* we go?"

"Um, how 'bout one? That will give you plenty of time to play, swim, eat, play games, eat some more, then our fireworks and then the *big* fireworks, okay?"

"*o-*kay*!"

Somehow, with another story about magikal cats and wolves and wolf pups, Jake actually went back to sleep, his fathers soon following.

 

***<><><>***

 

"swim suit?"

"Check."

"toys?"

"Check."

"fireworks?"

"Check."

"blankie?"

"Three - check."

"more toys?"

"Check."

"goggles?"

"Che... uh, Jake? Goggles?"

They were all in the living room, ready to depart, but Jake had insisted on a last minute inventory, prompting Blair to mutter, "like anal-retentive father...." and now Jim paused, stumped as Jake asked about *goggles*.

"yup, goggles."

Blair held up a pair of new sporty sunglasses that he'd purchased for Jake and said, "Jake's goggles."

"Ah," Jim acknowledged. "Goggles, check."

"hat?"

"Check."

"pillow?"

"Check."

"fried chicken?"

"Oops."

A giggling Jake shook his head and waggled one finger. "you *can't* forget the chicken!"

"Have no fear," Jim reassured, "Dinner is all packed, we have plenty of snacks, juice and water. We be ready, Hoss."

"bullfroggy?"

Blair held up the green bottle of protective lotion and intoned, "Check."

"we be ready!"

"*We* may be ready, but am I?" Jim muttered as they headed out.

 

*.*.*!!!*.*.!!

 

Cascade for the Fourth was warm, bright, cloud -free and enhanced by a sweet breeze blowing off the ocean. As Jim drove toward the park, grateful that the Cascade PD, in the guise of Henri Brown, had already secured a section of the park and Jim *wouldn't* have to go scouting, he found himself hoping that they were arriving early enough to get a decent parking space. The idea of traispsing umpteen miles, arms full of *supplies* would do nothing to help maintain his Fourth of July mood.

As he turned left into the large parking lot, God smiled and someone pulled out. Chortling, Jim pulled in, the proud recipient the prime parking space. Jake was bouncing in his car seat so freeing him was their first order of business. Helping him hop down, they popped open the back gate and started unloading. At one point, as Jake jiggled impatiently on the grass a few feet away, Jim stopped, looked down at himself, then over to Sandburg.

"Man, I used to see parents loaded down like this, going to the beach or the park, covering miles to find the perfect spot and never once thought I'd *be* one of them. This is - surreal."

Grinning wickedly, Blair asked, "Would that be surreal in a good way, or surreal in a bad way? And before you answer, take a look over there." Jim followed Blair's nodding head and immediately smiled wide and deep.  Jake was bouncing, eyes everywhere *and* holding himself in the universal gesture that screamed, *I gotta go!* but was too excited to actually *do* anything about it.

"Surreal in a *very* good way."

"Well, come on, *mom*, let's get this show on the road and get that kid to a bathroom - pronto!"

Loaded down, and with Jake now hanging onto Blair's untucked yellow polo shirt, they headed deep into the park, but not before Blair caught Jim's muttered, "why am *I* always the mom?"

Hitting the taller man with the smaller cooler, Blair said with a grin, "Because you're just *so* butch, Jim."

"Stinker."

From behind Blair came an agreeable, "yup!"

Laughing, both men kept moving.

 

*.*.*!!!*.*.*!!!!*.*'.*!!!

 

"You know, this isn't bad. Not bad at all."

"Well sure, we're sitting in patio chairs under a big tree, beers in our hands and Jake is doing all the work."

Both watched contentedly and lazily as Jake scrambled all over the greenery, either fast on the heels of Cherry and Corky, or they fast on his. All three were prancing about, small plastic bottles of soapy bubble makers in one hand and a red plastic hoop stick in the other.  They blew, then chased down the escaping bubbles.

By now the park had been claimed by the youngsters and they'd covered every inch of it, including the wading pool. A pool that had seriously disappointed Jake, who'd been hoping to show off for Cherry. But he'd played happily in the water anyway. Now, all dressed and dry, they were content to play on the grass in front of parents and friends.

Cherry was a streak of brown skin and pale blue cotton, thanks to her sundress, while Corky, in a short denim jumper, white shirt and shining red hair looked like the American flag. Jake, also appropriately festive, ran in baggy navy blue shorts with a red and white striped shirt - chosen by him, especially for the Fourth.

All three had bright blue noses, thanks to colored zinc and praise be to face painters scattered over the park, they also each had a small American flag painted on their right cheeks and a colorful burst of fireworks on their left. It was doubtful that three happier children existed anywhere. And next to Jim and Blair, an equally happy and lazy Makeba and Terry Paramour.

Terry lifted a cold beer to his lips, drank heartily, then said, following an unexcused burp, "So Corky's parents are where again?"

"Actually," Blair said while pinching his nose, "They're attending a very *social* party at the Mayor's, no less. Par-tay of the season."

"Oh my - and we're *stuck* here?"

"Fraid so, my man."

Terry held out his hand and Blair skimmed his over it, both ending up pointing at each other and saying, "Right *on*!"

Bottles clinked as all four parents saluted each other, then as they drank, they turned their attention back to the rampaging four-year olds.  All around them, their friends and co-workers from both Major Crime and the Fire Department, sat on scattered blankets or at the one long table, laughing, drinking, knoshing and thoroughly enjoying the day.

As Blair nursed his beer, he noticed Simon and Daryl approaching, Daryl holding hands with a lovely teenager that Blair had met during one of his *tutoring* sessions with Daryl. Her name was Troya and she would be joining Daryl at Rainier in the Fall.

Henri Brown bounced up from the table where he sat with Rafe and their respective dates, grabbed the food basket that Simon carried and quickly set it down on the table. As he did, Jake spotted the two and dropping his bubble bottle, screamed, "unkul Simon!" and hurtled himself at the big man. Simon caught him deftly and swung him up and over his head, Jake yelling his glee. As Simon brought the boy down, he tucked him under his arm like a package and walked over to where Jim and Blair sat in the shade. Smiling down at Jim, he said, "Somebody lose this wiggle-wart?"

Jim chuckled and held out his hands, allowing Simon to swing the giggling boy forward.

"You're late, Simon."

"yeah, unkul simon, you're *very* late!"

"I am, aren't I? Well, we had to pick up Troya and her folks insisted we join them for lunch and what can I say when faced with ribs? Had to say yes, but we're here, we made it."

Blair rooted around in the cooler, found a can of beer and tossed it to his boss who caught it as easily as he'd caught Jake.

"Thanks. This will really hit the spot."

Jake wiggled from Jim's lap and scampered off to join Cherry, Corky, and Daryl and Troya who'd been roped into blowing bubbles. Simon dropped to the ground next to Jim and joined the watching parents.

Blair gazed out over the park, up at the sky, then back to Jake and his friends. He tried to relax, but Simon, while accepting the beer, hadn't met Blair's gaze. Now the trace of something bitter cast a slight pall over the day.

 

*.*!!!*.*.*!!!!*.*.*!!!!

 

The shade had spread as the sun moved west and Blair glanced first over at Jim, who had a curled up Corky in his lap, then to Cherry who was sound asleep on Makeba. Evidently nap time ruled, even on a holiday.  Jake lay with his back against Blair's chest, but not yet asleep.

On the other side of the tree, Troya rested against Daryl as they talked quietly and Simon was stretched out on the blanket next to Jim, apparently napping. On the CD player, Rod Stewart's *Forever Young* played softly in the background.

"daddy?"

"Um...."

"what's pr...pre-skool?"

Twisting his head so he could see Jake's face, Blair said, "Pre-school?

Why do you ask?"

"corky said he, um," Jake frowned as he tried to remember the word he was looking for, then smiled and said, "gradshoewaited from preskool."

"Ah, I see. Well, you know about school, right?"

"i know all *about* skool. 'm going in the fall, aren't I?" Jake said, tilting his head back to see his daddy.

"Yep, you're going in the Fall, but a lot of children go to *pre* school, meaning they go and learn how to be ready to go to school."

"oh." Jake digested that, thought about it, turned it over, twisted it, then asked, "so i don't *need* to get ready?"

Laughing softly and unaware that both Jim and Simon were now listening, Blair said, "Well, Jake, my man, you *do* already know much of what you'd need to know in order to be ready to go. You know how to dress yourself, to put on your jacket and you can even tie your shoes...." "but still need help for that, daddy."

Tapping the upturned nose, Blair chuckled and agreed, "Yep, you do, but you *mostly* do it yourself. And you know your numbers...."

"i can count to a bazillion, can't i, daddy?"

"Oh, yeah, at *least* that high. And you're already reading...."

"because i know my alphybetty!"

"Absolutely, from A to Z." As Blair spoke, he and Jake started playing slow finger games as Blair dropped his head and rested his cheek on top of Jake's curly hair.

"And, Hoss, you *did* go to pre-school - for a little while, but it was more important," Blair took a deep breath and said quietly, "For you to be with Gammy."

"gammy took me to pre-skool?"

"She sure did."

"so gammy gradshoewaited me?"

"Absolutely."

"my gammy's the bestest gammy in the whole world, wasn't she, daddy?"

Sighing, Blair nodded against the soft hair, glad that they'd reached

the point where Jake could speak naturally, easily and lovingly about

his *gammy.*

"Yes, welp, she was."

A few quiet moments passed, then....

"so what is the name of my... of my...."

"The name of your grade, Jake?"

"'sxactly. grade."

"In September, you'll be in kindergarten. You'll go to school for half a day...."

"tell me again what i get to do in kindygarden?"

"Well, you'll play, and make wonderful things and learn more about reading and numbers and you'll have a *whole* class of other children to play with...."

"what 'bout cherry and corky?"

"You, Cherry and Corky are all going to be at the same school, but maybe not in the same class. But you'll see each other every day. And you'll either go to school in the morning, with poppy and me dropping you off and Maggie or Nomi picking you up, or you'll go in the afternoon, with Maggie...."

"or nomi dropping me off and *you and poppy* picking me up!"

"Umm, well, *maybe* - sometimes."

"do i get to choose?"

"Um, well, we'll all three work on that issue, Jake. When we sign you up next month."

"kay." Then just when Blair thought Jake had nodded off, he piped up with, "so tell me 'bout camp?"

Blair gave a half chuckle, half groan. "Okay, who told you about camp?"

"cherry goes every morning."

"I see. Okay, she attends *summer camp* and it's kind of a combination of pre-school and kindergarten, but way more fun. You play, and go on field trips, like to the zoo or the aquarium...."

"and i start when?" asked the clever Mr. Porter. Blair tugged at a short curl and laughed softly. "Man, you are *so* good, Jacob Michael Porter."

"yup! so when?"

"Why don't we work on that tomorrow, okay?"

"promuse?"

"You got it."

"'kay." Jake seemed to settle back then, his drowsy blue eyes trying to follow some older children playing, but the need to sleep drawing the lids down.

Blair kissed one soft cheek, then glanced over at Jim, who smiled gently.

"Looks like Jake is going to summer camp, eh, Chief?"

"Seems like. Let's just hope we can get him in this late."

"Is he ready?"

Glancing down at the now sleeping boy, Blair nodded easily. "Oh, yeah, he's ready."

Simon, hands behind his head, watched and listened, then noted Blair's attention diverted as several couples wandered by - all either holding hands or in each other's arms. Some stopped long enough to kiss before moving on. Blair's gaze moved back to Jim and Simon caught the loving and longing look each gave the other.

And it hit Simon. Hit him hard.

Jim and Blair were as much a couple as any two people at that park, and yet - they didn't have the *freedom* to hold hands, to kiss, to share their affection in the open. They were two men, two *cops* and while it had been eight months that they'd been together and with Jake - it still wasn't common knowledge. And had Simon ever known two people more in love? Or more suited to be parents?

Slowly he sat up and fixed his gaze on Sandburg... but before he could say anything, Daryl stood over him, hands on hips.

"Hey, pops, up and at 'em. We're off to the lake and you're invited."

"I'm invited?"

"Yep. Get those bones up and moving. You've got to work up an appetite for dinner and work *off* the ribs."

Shaking his head, he rose, with a hand from his son. Simon brushed off his jeans, then with a wave to Jim and Blair, he moved off. But in his mind, he decided that before the day was over, he needed to have a heart-to-heart with Sandburg.

 

!*.*.*!!!.*..*!!

 

The tables were laden down with food and everyone was seated and happily eating as the sun made its graceful exit. Jake sat with Corky and both were happily wedged between Jim and Blair. Across from them sat Terry, Cherry and Makeba, and flanking both couples, Simon, Daryl, Troya, and Megan and her newest conquest, a young man named Brian. The rest of the gang sat at the other two tables but were close enough to talk, share food and have food fights. Which Jim started, much to the delight of his son.

Biscuits flew, as did slices of watermelon, ice cubes, cobs of corn, meatballs and chunks of bread. The only three adults it seemed, were Jake, Cherry and Corky, who watched, giggled and occasionally snuck up a hand to claim a delicious morsel as it flew by.

The food fight abruptly ended when Makeba, her blouse splotched by a badly caught sweet and sour meatball announced - dessert.

The pies, cakes, brownies and trifle were uncovered as the table was cleared and new plates and forks put out. All three children looked longingly at *all* the desserts and eyes popped out as *very* small helpings of *everything* were placed on plates and set before them.  Without a word, all three dug in, the adults soon following.

"yummmmmmy!" Cherry said as she tasted the chocolate brownie with thick buttercream frosting.

"yummmmmmier!" cried Corky as he tasted his first ever bite of trifle.

"yummmmmmmiest!! Jake giggled, his mouth full of trifle and his first ever bite of rhubarb pie.

Blair considered throwing up. Until urged by his son to try it. Nodding at the wise young man, he said, "Yep, this is the yummmmmmiest."

"yup!"

 

Blair was stuffing trash in one of the big green bags that Jim had brought when Simon ambled over. The others were packing up and getting ready for the fireworks, both the personal ones and the big ones and Jim had already jogged off with three trash bags for the dumpster.

"Hey."

Blair looked up and smiled tentatively. "Hey, Simon."

"Need a hand?"

"Nope, almost done."

"Oh, okay."

For a moment Simon stood watching, moving gently from one foot to the other, as Blair finished and started to tie up the bag.  Finally with a sigh, Simon spoke up.

"Blair? I owe you an apology. Big time. Actually, I owe you *two* apologies." As Blair started to speak, Simon lifted a warning hand. "No, let me just say this, all right?"

At Blair's hesitant nod, Simon went on.

"First off, I should never have broached the subject of Daryl and the apartment. You didn't deserve it. I *know* you only have Daryl's best interests at heart and if Daryl decides to move out now or later, well, that's to be expected. He's eighteen now and to be honest, living at the Anjasmayo would be infinitely better than dorms or a frat house.

"Second, I should never have brought it up at the station, using my position. That was so wrong on so many levels that I'm truly ashamed, Blair. You're my friend and friends talk."

Simon stopped, scratched the back of his head, then meeting Blair's blue eyes head on, he added, "I should probably also mention that the only one other person who could have got me so hot and bothered would have been, well, if, say, Daryl had an older brother and *he'd* mentioned the apartment to Daryl." A smile graced Simon's mouth as he looked at Sandburg.

Lips twitching, Blair observed, "I think, other than at work, that might be the most you've ever said to me, Simon. At one time."

"I wouldn't doubt it, Sandburg." Then with a touch of anxiety in his voice, Simon asked, "So we okay?"

Grinning broadly, Blair shrugged, then quipped, "Sure pops. No problem.

Can I borrow the car tonight?"

"Putz."

"That's *Detective* Putz, Simon."

The two men smiled broadly over the green trash bag.

 

.*.*!!.*.*.!!!

 

The huge box of fireworks sat on one of the tables, all the contents spread out, in order of use, courtesy of Jim Ellison. Everyone had turned to face the strip of cement walkway where in a few minutes, Terry and Simon would be setting off the fireworks.

Jake sat on Blair's lap, Corky on Jim's and Cherry on Makeba's. Megan was on the ground, her back against Brian's, while Rafe, his date Eileen and Henri and his date, Shirelle, sat on the ground in front of Jim and Blair.

Several other couples and families sat scattered in the general vicinity, with Daryl and Troya standing ready to assist Terry and Simon.

The sun had just disappeared from the horizon and nightfall was still an hour away, but the dusky grayness was perfect for their little show.  Boxes of sparklers sat with Blair, Jim and Makeba, ready to be lit as it grew darker later, but for now, the three children were content. Of course, being supremely stuffed might have had something to do with it.

"Okay, Ladies and Gentlemen, the first annual Joint Cascade Police and Fire Department Fireworks show is about to begin." Simon announced.

"Before we start, however, your brave and courageous *handlers* could use a round of applause... just to motivate them, so please put your hands together for... Simon Banks, that would be me, and Terry Paramour!"

Laughing and cheering, everyone clapped enthusiastically, with Jake leading the loudest cheer. Terry stepped forward and placed three items down on the cement, handed off one of the long punk sticks to Simon, and one after the other, they lit them.

Breathlessly - everyone waited for fuses to burn... then....

One Volcano erupted, followed seconds later by a Roman Candle and one Piccalo Pete.

Showers streamed, Pete whistled, and the sparks flew. Eyes wide and disbelieving, Jake sat stunned, unable to move. For Corky and Cherry, who remembered from last year, it was still spectacular, but not as *new* as for young Mr. Porter.

For the next hour, Simon and Terry carefully drew out the show, always utilizing enough at one time to astound their audience, but not so many as to finish too soon. And of course, they escalated the fireworks in size and sound.

For Jake, the cascading showers of silver, white, gold and other assorted colors, the sounds, the whooshing and whistling, kept him glued to his father's lap, fingers clenched firmly around Blair's arms, except when clapping wildly. For Jim, even with his senses turned down a bit, watching his son, observing the reflection of the glittering showers and sparks in Jake's eyes, was tantamount to heaven. More than once, as he gazed lovingly at the two people who meant more to him than anything on earth, he felt a lump move into his throat and a strange constriction around his chest.

Life was good.

At eight forty-five, the last three items were set down, all three considerably larger than any that had come before, and the one that would be last, the largest still. There was a hushed silence as with great solemnity, Simon lit the first, then ten seconds later, Terry lit the second and as both sputtered into life, Daryl lit the final one - Mount Vesuvius. Seconds later, it gushed forth a tall stream of multi-colored showers that sparkled and popped and lit up the area for several feet. It was so grand that others stopped to watch, amazed.

Jake drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly as he mouthed a huge *O*. Then he began to clap hard, his legs kicking so much that Blair had to stand and let Jake down. As the boy clapped, Jim joined in with whistles of appreciation and soon, the entire crowd was on their feet, their applause loud and appreciative.

As the last of the glittering marvel faded, silence surrounded them, until Jake asked sadly, "no more?" That broke the spell as everyone rushed to assure him that in just ten minutes, the fireworks in the sky would start.

Satisfied, Jake looked at Jim and grinning winningly, asked eagerly, "sparklers now?"

"Sparklers, Jake," Blair affirmed.

Corky, Cherry and Jake promply lined up while Jim, Terry and Blair took out one each and handed them to the children. Jim then passed the rest out to the crowd. Simon lit his with a lighter and everyone without matches of their own used Simon's to light theirs. Jim, after reminding Jake and Corky how to hold the sparklers, lit both, then under his and Blair's supervision, both boys waved their sparklers around, made designs in the air and watched everyone else's. Cherry, more sedate, stood and held hers still, just happy to watch it dance in the air.

As Jake whirled his sparkler, raised it up and down and followed the magical trail, he happily informed everyone that, "i'm harry potter! i'm harry potter!"

It took the group eight minutes to finish off the sparklers, which gave them two minutes to get situated for the sky show.

Jake, saddened that his sparkler fizzled out, quickly crawled onto Blair's lap and wiggled into Blair's left side until he was thoroughly comfortable. With a happy glance at first Cherry, then Corky, he turned his attention to the sky.

Blair shared a pleased look with Jim, even as he whispered for the detective to *get ready and turn it all down*. Jim nodded and they smiled at one another, both knowing that Jake had no idea what was in store for him. That he probably had some strange vision of what he'd just seen somehow transferred to the sky.

At nine o'clock sharp, a voice blaring over the loudspeaker announced, "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, FAMILIES OF CASCADE, THE CITY OF CASCADE AND MAYOR THORNTON ARE PROUD TO PRESENT THE TENTH ANNUAL FOURTH OF JULY FIREWORKS PRESENTATION! TURN YOUR ATTENTION TO THE SKIES OVER OUR CITY AND BEHOLD!"

There was a whistling sound and a thin streak of silver shot up, Blair pointing it out to Jake, who followed it up and up and up....

When it burst into a huge blossom of red, white and blue, Jake gasped.  Seconds later, two more burst in overlapping blossoms and the fireworks display was officially in progress.

Their chairs close together, the darkness cloaking their movements, Jim and Blair connected, Blair's left hand to Jim's right as they watched both boys and each other.

The next thirty minutes transformed an ordinary night sky into a magical kingdom of light and sound. Popping showers of white that shot up, then curled over and burst into balls of shiny silver, followed by a staccato of pops brought forth Jake's first words....

"oooh! daddy!"

When the same thing happened again moments later, but this time the balls were blue and green, Jake murmured, "ooh, poppy!"

And so it went on, the sky yielding burst after burst of incredible colors and showers of bright lights. A continual booming and popping had Jake almost dancing in his father's lap, as was Corky in Jim's. Cherry was on her father's shoulders because he sat on the blanket next to Blair's chair and several times Jake reached out to high-five her as they both shared giggles of wonder.

At nine thirty-five - the show seemed to stop.

Jake groaned and turned his head up and back. "daddy? not over, not over?"

Pointing back up to the sky, Blair whispered, "look, jake, the finale."

Jake turned his attention back to the sky just as seven rockets shot their way to the heavens and in almost perfect synchronization, they burst wide, huge and beautiful, every color of the rainbow present.

For the next eight minutes, the sky was inundated by a constant barrage of rockets resulting in the most awesome firework display Cascade had ever seen.

As Blair watched Jake, he noticed small tears track their way down his son's cheek, but the smile on Jake's face told Blair all he needed to know - Jake was not only supremely happy, but as moved by the beauty as Blair himself.

As the last array of rockets were sent up, Blair attached a prayer of love and thanks to the path of silver as he mouthed, "thank you, karen" to the eternal skies.

 

***<><><>***

 

Arms around each other's waists, Jim and Blair gazed down at their sleeping son.

"it was a great day, wasn't it?" Jim whispered.

"the bestest."

"we're blessed, chief. how many more *firsts* do we have ahead of us?"

Moving out into the hall, Blair ticked off on his right hand, "Um, his first day at school, losing his first tooth and tooth fairies are greedy little sluts nowadays, his first time on a two-wheeler, his first cartwheel, his first, *look, daddy, poppy, no hands!*, his first report card, his first vacation, his first camp-out...."

Catching on gleefully, Jim added manically, "His first *fall* from his bike, his first fall from roller blades, the first time he *hooks* himself, the first measle, mump *and* chicken pox...."

"His first date," Blair carried on, "graduation from kindergarten and let's hope the first date comes *considerably* after *that*."

They moved into their bedroom as Blair continued....

"His first kiss, his first driving lesson," Blair pointed at Jim, "by *you*. His first ticket...."

"His first lesson in safe sex, given by," Jim pointed at Blair, "*you*."

"The day his bride walks down the aisle toward him and let's hope *that* happens *after* the safe sex talk...."

"And *way* after his graduation from kindergarten and his first date...."

"The first time he tells us we don't know anything."

"The first time he tells us to stay out of his life...."

They both looked at each other, smiled and said, "Nah, he'll never say that!" Then laughing, Blair added, "Well, at least not until he's six."

"The first time he tells us he's *not* going to college," Jim added.

"Oh, that'll be the first time *you* kill him, right?"

"No, that'll be the first time he tells us some girl thinks she's missed her period."

Slowly, they began to undress each other.

"The first time he interrupts us - while we're *discussing* riding habits?"

Blair smiled at that as he helped pull Jim's shirt off, then added, "The first time we sit him down and talk about drugs." Then he glanced up at Jim and asked, "Isn't that one scheduled for next week?"

Jim unzipped Blair's denim shorts and said, "No, the drug talk is penciled in for February, 2002."

"Ah."

Jim's fingers stopped as suddenly serious eyes fastened onto Blair's.

"The first time someone hassles him about us."

Blair smoothed a hand over Jim's chest and said, "The first time he puts them in their place - with words of wisdom."

"Words of wisdom?"

"Uh-huh. Goes something like this; *see, my poppy *used* to be a woman, but everyone got him, i mean *her*, confused with my daddy, so mommy had a sex change operation*."

"Ah."

Blair brought Jim's head down within reach and as he rested his lips against Jim's, he whispered, "the first time his first baby is put into his arms...."

"...and we're going crazy taking videos...."

"uh-huh."

Jim rested his hands on now naked Blairhips and pulled the pliant body with him as he dropped back onto the bed. As Blair's head rested on his shoulder, Jim nuzzled warm, silky hair and murmured, "we're so damn lucky."

"yeah, we are. but i could use some *personal* fireworks, jim," Blair whispered into heated skin.

"what a coincidence, i'm the fireworks master. get ready for the show of your life, chief."

"been ready - for a lifetime."

~~The End~~

Anxious to discover how Jim handles more swimming lessons and his memories of a certain fountain? Or how Blair deals with Jim's failure to acknowledge him at the fireworks stand? Well, tune in next time as we present Jim, Blair and Jake on their first vacation in *Travels Afar*, coming sometime in August. <G> And for the piccies, see below:

This is Blair:

http://www.demonsdreamin.buffysdomain.com/wolfpup.html

Jake and Cherry:

http://www.demonsdreamin.buffysdomain.com/wolfpup2.html