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The Big Five

by alyjude

This was won by Wendy in the Moonridge Auction. She wanted a scene where Jake is singing, all by himself. Thank you, Wendy, for liking Jake enough to benefit Moonridge. :) 
Explanation required: There is a huge novel-like thing being written by me which picks up after Jake's first Fourth of July. It's the big "vacation" story. This story would technically take place almost immediately after the vacation story and while something from the vacation story is vaguely hinted at here, this is a stand-alone. Also, if you have now read A Day at the Zoo, well, this story actually fits *before* A Day at the Zoo. If you haven't read it, but plan to? Read this one first.

Sunday, September 10, 2000 - 19 days to the Big Five

"It's in less than three weeks, Sandburg."


"Three. Weeks. There's a lot to do in three weeks."

Blair glanced up from his section of the Sunday papers. "Jim, you planning on baking the cake now? Freezing it, maybe?"

"Don't be an idiot--"

Sandburg's arched eyebrow forced Jim to take a verbal step backward.

"I don't mean idiot, in the idiot sense of the word, I just mean--"

"Take your foot out of your mouth, Jim."

"Look, this is the big one. This is the year he moves from toddler to--"

"No, that was his fourth birthday."

"What? No. I'm sure Keeba told me that a child is no longer considered a toddler when they turn five."

"Jim, does he toddle?"

"What? No, of course not--"

"There you go," Blair said by way of ending it.

"So... what is he?"

"He's a pre-schooler."

"Sandburg, he's in school. You know, that green building where we drop him off at every morning, and where your mother picks him up?"

"He's a kindergartner because his birthday is the end of September, Jim."

"Thank you for that brilliant clarification. Can we get back to discussing the birthday party?"

"We invite kids, we have balloons, cake, ice cream, a horse and games. The party lasts two very long hours, everyone goes home, you spend several hours picking ice cream sprinkles out of the furniture, Jake spends several happy hours playing with his haul, and next year, we do it again."

"You never had a traditional birthday party, did you?"

"Traditional? Has anything about my life with Naomi indicated traditional?"

"Point taken, Sandburg."

"How many am I up by?"

"I should keep count when you're clearly winning?"

"Silly me."

"Birthday party?"

Blair brought his legs up and dropped them down on Jim's lap, and consequently, on Jim's section of the papers. "Didn't we just have that discussion?"

"No, you had that discussion."

"So what do you want to do? You're obviously angling for something beyond the traditional idea of a party, so spill."

Jim scratched his chin, then the bottom of Blair's right foot. "Well, now that you mention it... you know that field behind Simon's place?"

"Ye-es," Blair said, now very suspicious.

"Well, I was thinking... a couple of fun rides, one of those plastic blow-up jumping things, picnic benches, maybe a piata, a barbecue, maybe make ice cream from scratch, the kids can take turns cranking it, maybe--"

"Maybe it'll rain," Blair offered dryly.

"Nope. I can tell these things, Sandburg. No rain. Sun. Wonderful sun."

"In three weeks," Blair said dubiously.

"In three weeks," Jim said with great confidence.

"And you want... a carnival for our son's birthday."

"It's an important one, Sandburg. He's turning five--"

"You said that."

"It bears repeating. Come on, it'll be fun." He tweaked Blair's big toe and grinned winningly.

"A field. For a birthday party." Blair sighed. "I had such nice visions of the courtyard all decked out with streamers and a banner, and everyone pitching in--"

"And doing all the work," Jim added.

"... and doing all the work, while we--"

"Got all the credit," Jim added.

"... got all the credit," Blair said dreamily.

"Oh, Chi-ef," Jim singsonged, "if we work this right, our good buddies will do all the work anyway."

"You know, Jim, if we work this right, we can get our good buddies to do all the work."

"No, really?"

Smiling innocently, Blair let his foot play in Jim's lap. "Really."

"Your foot's having fun, isn't it?"

"Now that you mention it, yeah. I'm starting to get jealous."

"Feel free to join it."

Blair leaned forward, eyes on the nice tent in Jim's sweats. "What time are they bringing our almost five year-old son back?"

Jim looked at his watch. "We have three whole hours, Sandburg."

Massaging the "tent", Blair said, "I love it when you call me Sandburg."

Jake walked into the kitchen and up to his father, who was rinsing tomatoes in the sink. He yanked on his jeans and said, "did you know that i'm almost five?"

Jim looked down and gave his son a puzzled look. "almost five what?"

"just... five," he said, nudging the word at Jim.

"Five...inches? Five... feet?"

"no... five."

"O-oh. five. So you're almost five minutes away from helping me with dinner. I get it now."

Jake frowned and stuck out his lower lip. "poppy, i be almost five years old." He gave his father's leg a light push, his newest habit of late, and added, "i want a whole lot of stuff, poppy, so you and daddy should start saving your money now, 'kay?"

Jim picked Jake up and walked over to the table. He slid in and positioned the boy on his lap as he said, "You want a whole lot of stuff, do you? Well, daddy and I will need to know in order to properly save, so shoot, Hoss."

Jake tapped his lip and stared up at the ceiling for several seconds before saying, "okay, maybe... a bike? a real one? and a reeeeeal kits jacket, and," he hopped down and grinned like a loon, "i wanna horsey." With that, he bounced out of the kitchen.

"A horse?" Jim said to the stove. "Dear God."

Jim unzipped his jeans and said, "Our son gave me his birthday list today."

The tone was definitely, "Oh, by the way, the world ends tomorrow," so Blair stopped undressing and offered, "Really?" His tone easily conveyed the question, "What time tomorrow?"

"He wants," Jim wiggled out of the jeans, "a bike. A real one."

"As opposed to?" Blair wiggled his head in time with Jim's wiggle.

"Another baby bike with training wheels?"

"Ah." Blair debated asking more because he was really enjoying Jim's strip act, and talking about the end of the world would probably put a real damper on what he hoped would be the end result of said strip act, namely sex. He shimmied out of his jeans and kicked them into the corner with his shoes. His shirt followed next, and when he was down to just his boxers, he walked over and wrapped his arms around Jim and began to pepper his back with kisses.

"And a horse," Jim said, allowing the other shoe to drop.

End of the world. Heavy music. Sexual urges severely dampened.


"A horse?" Blair stepped back, arms dropping to his side.

"A horse," Jim said as he turned to face Blair.

"A horse." Blair walked to the window and stood silently, eyes focused on the park that butted up against the carports. "A horse. Okay - this isn't a bad thing - exactly. Children learn a great deal with a horse to take care of, right? You had a horse. Of course, the actual buying part is kind of tricky, and I'm thinking our bathroom is a bit small... but we can handle this."

"Yes, I had a horse, yes I learned a great deal. And I agree that our bathroom is a bit small for a barn. So how - exactly - are we going to handle this?"

Blair turned around and grinned. "We tell your dad," he said triumphantly.

Jim's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying that we tell my father, and then let him do what we both know he'll do, which would be to buy our son a horse?"

His expression clearly told Blair he'd better not have said just that. But Blair knew Jim like the back of his hand, or his dick, or better still, Jim's dick, so he said, "Yep, that's what I'm saying."

"Oh." Jim stepped out his boxers, grinned, and added, "Works for me."

Blair jumped Jim's bones.


Blair stopped drawing stick figures in the semen on Jim's belly. "Wait, what?"

"He said he wanted a whole bunch of stuff, but all he told me was a bike, a jacket, and a horse. Should we be worried about that?"

"We had the kind of sex that should be on film and preserved at the Smithsonian, and you're back on Jake's birthday?"

"It was good, wasn't it?"


"But still... should we be worried?"

"Nah. To Jake, a bike, a jacket, and a horse is a lot. But I suspect we can come up with our version of a whole bunch of stuff, and Naomi will do her thing, and Steven his, and Simon--"

Jim took Blair's semen-coated finger and stuck in his mouth. After a thorough sucking, he said, "I get it, Chief. I get it. So we just do our thing. And my party idea."

"You're really into this, aren't you?"

Jim splayed his fingers over Blair's face and gently pushed his head back. "Get outta here. You know as well as I do that you're just as into this as I am. And just what kind of birthdays did you have, anyway?"

Blair dropped onto his back. He raised his arms, clasped his hands behind his head and said thoughtfully, "Kind of weird ones, I guess. I really remember the one in San Francisco though. Mom took me down to the wharf -- not the touristy end of it -- the real thing. She bought me ten oysters - I was turning ten - and told me that I could look for a pearl inside them. She said the world was my oyster and if I found a pearl, my fondest wish would come true."

Jim flipped over onto his side and propped his head up with his hand. He reached out and with his finger, tucked a stray curl back behind Blair's ear before letting the back of his hand caress Blair's face. "Did you find one?"

"Do you really think my mom would buy me ten oysters and let me go through all that if there weren't a pearl in one of them?"

Jim chuckled soft and low. "Ah, the old 'hide the pearl in the real oyster' gambit, eh?"

Laughing with him, Blair nodded. "That was my mom."

"Tell me more," Jim asked as he started playing with Blair's hair.

"Well, you know about the knife for my bar-mitsvah, right?"


"But what you don't know - is that we were in Israel at the time."

"Don't tell me. You were on a kibbutz, right?"

"Yep. And not just any old kibbutz. The one Naomi chose was based on the biblical philosophy of, and I quote, 'to till the earth and preserve it.' It was called Kibbutz Lotan and everything was designed to create ways to live in harmony with their desert environment. We stayed there for over six months."

Blair smiled softly, the memory clearly a good one. "It was one of the greatest times in my life - until I met you."

"Someday, you'll have to share all your adventures at Kibbutz Lotan."

"What makes you think I had," he made little quote marks in the air, "'adventures'?"

Looking at him in disbelief, Jim said, "We're talking you, buddy. Of course you had adventures."

"Okay, okay, so I had a few."

Jim moved from playing with the hair on Blair's head to the hair on his chest. "So I guess this little party idea of mine for Jake pales in comparison, eh?"

"Not at all. In fact, there were a couple of birthdays on the road where neither of us even remembered. I guess I'm still so surprised, after almost a year with you and Jake, that you get so wrapped up in these kind of things." He turned over onto his side so he could face Jim. "You're a great father and I think Jake will remember this birthday for a long time. Oh, and you're going to handle all the details. I'll just sit back and watch. And laugh."

"How hard could one little birthday party be, Chief?"

Blair didn't answer, choosing instead to simply raise one eyebrow.

"Right. Okay, so what? I can do this. I'm a cop, ex-Army Ranger. Sentinel of the Great City. I can do this."

Blair patted him on his bare ass. "That's right, honey. You just keep saying that, okay?"

"Sometimes, I really hate you, Sandburg."

Monday, September 12, 2000 - 18 days to the Big Five

Down on one knee in front of his son, Blair adjusted his coat and pulled the hood up over Jake's blond curls. "Okay, warm enough?"

Jake nodded and the hood flopped back down. Giggling, he said, "i be plenty warm, but i don't think my hood will stay, daddy!"

Laughing, Blair pulled it back up and tied the string. "There, now it will. Okay, you ready for school?"

Jake held up his backpack. "i'm ready, daddy! my 'nomi will pick me up, right?"

"Yep, at twelve-thirty on the dot. No Maggie today."


Blair stood, grabbed his own jacket, checked his pocket for his keys, nodded when his fingers connected with them, and finally reached around Jake and opened the front door. They both walked out into the courtyard, the brisk, almost-Fall air greeting them. As he closed the door behind him, Jake ran over to the koi pond to say good-bye to his fishies - his daily pre-school ritual - before trotting back to his father.

Slipping his hand into his father's and starting to skip alongside him, Jake asked, "who will pick me up at my nomi's, daddy?"

"I'm thinking me. Jim may be in court too long this afternoon to make it to your grandmother's."


They'd reached the Volvo and, shortly thereafter, Jake was safely tucked into his car seat in the back and Blair was backing out of the car port. As he turned right out of the driveway, he said, "Look, I have an idea. If I finish early enough and poppy is still at court, what say that when I pick you up, we meet him at Luigi's for a spaghetti dinner?"

Jake clapped his hands happily. "yipppeee!"

Blair figured that was a yes.

Making the left onto Wilmington, Blair missed the parked car and the man seated in the driver's seat - holding a video camera and following the Volvo's turning movement.

Jim strode down the long corridor, his anger a clear and present danger. Beside him, Simon found himself, in spite of his three plus inches over the man, hurrying to keep up. He finally reached out and snagged Jim's jacket.

"Okay, okay, let's slow it down before you set the place on fire, Detective."

The man in question yanked his arm away from Simon's grip and kept going. Simon stopped and, in a voice long recognized as his command voice, said, "I can make that an order, Ellison."

Jim slowed and gradually came to a stop. He closed his eyes and grunted. Simon came alongside, took his arm again, and led him to a bench. Pushing him down, he said, "That's better. Now take several deep breaths... that's it. Damn, I wish Sandburg were here, he could calm you down."

Eyes still closed, Jim muttered, "You're doing okay. And I'm glad he isn't here to see what passes for justice in Cascade."

Simon took a seat next to Jim and said, "Look, it's not over. The case may have been dismissed for lack of evidence, but the DA can re-file when we bring him more evidence."

Jim's eyes shot open. "More evidence, Simon? MORE?"

Fingers tightening on Jim's arm, Simon hissed out, "Keep your voice down, Detective. And yes, more evidence."

"What more do you want? We have the computer records, Singleton's testimony, we--"

"Computer evidence that could have been tampered with, testimony from a man who was fired for theft and showed up on our doorstep twenty-four hours later...."

He deliberately let his words trail off, knowing full well that Jim was getting it.

"Yeah, well, we also have what I both saw and heard, Simon."

"Yep, we do. And you were two blocks away at the time and it was two in the morning - a foggy two in the morning. All of which means - we need to get more evidence. The judge was listening, he was hearing, but he was also doing his job. The DA should never have--"

"Speaking of the DA, don't even try to tell me that Wilson isn't in Henderson's pocket, okay?"

Simon sat back, shoulders slumped. What could he say? There was a very real possibility that Jim was absolutely right. A fact that he hated with all his soul. He'd known Mark Wilson for over twenty years and until the Henderson case, would have said that he'd trust him with his life. Hell, with Daryl's life. Now... a flea wouldn't be safe.

Like a very old man, Simon got to his feet. "Come on, Jim. Let's get back to the station and work this out. And don't forget, we're looking at a silver lining. It's only ten and we're outta here."

"That makes me feel so much better. Not." But Jim got up and followed his captain.

"So now what?" Blair asked from his perch on the edge of the conference table in Simon's office.

"So now - it's back to work, gentlemen. We do what we do best - we investigate. We tear his people apart, dig into every dark corner, put the screws to him and hope one of his people squeals. Basically, we nail the man," Simon answered, his arms crossed over his chest.

When Jim didn't offer any comments, Blair glanced over at where he stood at the window, his back to them. "Jim?"

"I heard. So it's back to the basics. Fine."

Blair stood up and, ignoring the stiff back Jim presented, said, "I'm going to hit the computer, see what more I can dig up. And by the way, I promised Jake we'd eat at Luigi's tonight."


Blair shared a look with Simon, who shrugged and gave a small shake of his head signifying that Blair should leave Jim alone. Knowing better, Blair paused, hand on the door knob, and added airly, "Good thing you always bounce back from these minor setbacks, man. If you didn't, no one would ever get caught. And I have to tell you, I'm looking forward to bringing Henderson down. Of course, this is going to be very tricky for Simon...."

He let his voice trail off before opening the door. "You coming, Jim?"

Jim turned around, his blue eyes fixed on Simon. "Damn, I'd forgotten about you and Wilson. Simon, I'm--"

"Jim, nail Henderson. And if Wilson is in his pocket, bring him down too. You hear me?"

"Yes, sir. I hear you."

"Good. Then get the hell out of my office and get to work."

"So where do we start, Jim?" Megan asked.

"Damned if I know," Jim said as he ran his hand through his hair. "Sandburg, you said you were--"

"I'm digging, Jim. I'm digging." Even as he spoke, Blair's attention was riveted on the computer screen in front of him.

Joel leaned forward and said, "What about working backwards?"

"Backwards?" Megan asked as she too leaned forward.

"Yeah, you know, from Wilson back? I mean, if he is in Henderson's pocket, it has to be a fairly recent event. Six months ago, he brought down Renfield, remember?"

"Shit, you're right, Joel," Jim said as he perked up considerably. "That hurt Henderson's business big time." Jim swiveled on his chair until he was facing his partner. "Chief, can you--"

"Already on it, Jim."

"This whole Wilson thing may not be what we think," Blair said, his eyes fixed on his computer screen.

Jim looked up from the files he was pouring through. "Care to be more specific?"

"Wilson's wife and daughter... they have cancer. Both of them."

Jim closed the file he was reading, stood up, grabbed his jacket, and said, "So, what are we waiting for? Come on."

Blair rolled his eyes.

"We'd like to see Mister Wilson," Jim said as he flashed his badge to the woman at the door.

"He's at work--"

"We already know he came here from court this morning." Jim waved the badge again, letting it speak for him.

"Just... a moment." The door was shut in their faces.


"She's the housekeeper... she's just told him we're here... he's making a phone call - no, wait, he put it down. Here he comes...."

A moment later, the door opened.

"Detective Ellison, I'm surprised to see you here," Mark Wilson said, a charming smile on his face.

Jim wasn't fooled. A thin sheen of sweat covered Wilson's face and his pulse was racing.

"May we come in?" Jim's voice was hard, the smile on his face - cold.

Wilson swallowed hard, and stepped back to allow them entry. As the door closed behind them, Jim said, "You know my partner, Detective Sandburg."

"Of course. Why don't we talk in my library?"

Jim nodded and they followed him into an oak-paneled room lined with book shelves.

Wilson stopped in front of his desk and faced them. "So, what brings you here, Detective?"

"You mean besides Walter Henderson?"

"Judge Emerson did the only thing he could, Detective. You didn't have enough evidence."

"You're the DA, you took it to court. Not once did you even hint that we didn't have enough, not once did you tell us to get more." Jim let that sink in, catalogued the man's physical responses, and knew he was dealing with a man on the edge. He decided to go for the jugular. "How did he get to you?"

Wilson's eyes narrowed. "I'm not sure what you mean, Detective Ellison. And if this is how you handle doing a half-assed job--"

Knowing without words what his partner was doing, Blair jumped in right on time. "Your wife and daughter are very ill, aren't they, Mister Wilson?" he said, voice soft and full of sympathy. "I thought maybe... that was how. Hospital bills mounting up, maybe. But our search into your records show a good health insurance package and a nice bank balance, so ... how? Did he threaten--"

Blair didn't have to say anything more. Wilson made his way around the desk and sank into the chair. For a moment, he closed his eyes and sighed. Finally, he looked up. "Do you have children, Detective?"

He was looking at Blair, who nodded. "Yes, I do. A son--"

"Then take care of him, Detective. Take good care of him. Don't ever let anything happen to him. And if you're going to take on Henderson, send him out of harm's way."

"So Henderson did threaten your family?" Jim asked, his voice much more gentle now.

Wilson sat back and wiped his forehead. In a voice miles distant, he said, "My wife had Leukemia when she was young. She was given an experimental drug, the cancer went into remission and she was, after five years, pronounced cured. Later, years later, the drug was discovered to cause another kind of cancer, very rare. She passed it onto our daughter in the womb. Like Aids. We're fighting it, as you can imagine. My wife and daughter are, even now, at Saint Luke's. I'm supposed to drive up tonight." Slowly he reached down and opened the middle drawer of his desk. He pulled out a large manila envelope and pushed it across the shiny surface of the desk toward Jim.

With a look of infinite sadness, Jim picked it up and opened it. He slid out two eight-by-ten glossy photos and showed them to Blair, who winced.

The first showed a woman approximately Jim's age. She was asleep in a hospital bed, an IV hooked up to her arm. She was painfully thin, her hair sparse. It was obviously a very unguarded moment as both Jim and Blair could see a head-wrap scarf on the rail of the bed. The second photo showed a small girl, maybe a year or two older than Jake, also in a hospital bed. She, like her mother, was sound asleep. The difference was that on her chest was a piece of cardboard and on it the words, "IT WOULD BE SO EASY" had been written in red.

"I didn't have to do much, as it happened. Just took it to trial too soon. That's all. This time."

Puzzled, Blair said, "Why didn't you just come to us? We could have protected--"

"We both know you can't really stop someone if they want to hurt you or your family. And how could I put them in danger like that? Now, of all times?"

Jim didn't have an answer, but he did have a question, and while he was pretty sure he knew the answer, he had to ask. "Will you testify? It's all we need now. We can end this. You know he murdered Gibson and his wife - executed them. Help us, Wilson."

Face suddenly years older, Wilson looked up and shook his head. "Is it worth my wife's life? Or my daughter's? She's only six."

"We can protect them," Blair said quietly. "In spite of what you think, the police are very good at it. Help us stop him."

"Who did you talk to, Mister Wilson?" Jim prodded gently.

"It was Stevens, Henderson's right hand man. He actually came to my office - in broad daylight. That's how certain Henderson was that I'd cave. That he'd win."

With a look and nod from Jim, and even as Jim was taking out his cell phone, Blair walked over to Wilson. "Sir, we need you to come with us. We'll need your statement and then we'll get you to a safe--"

"NO!" Wilson was up instantly and moving away from Blair. "You said you'd protect my family--"

"I'm taking care of that now, Sir," Jim said as he indicated his phone.

"Then I need to be with them. If you can protect them, you can protect me with them. I won't leave them alone."

"It would be easier, Jim," Blair said, his expression full of sympathy for the man.

Jim couldn't argue the logic.

Jim took the chair in front of Simon's desk while Blair did his usual perching, this time on the edge of the desk. It was a testament to the day's events that Simon didn't so much as blink at the infraction.

"Okay, who do we have on the list?" Simon asked.

Blair opened the folder in his hand and started reading off names, all detectives, all considered to be the most trustworthy. Of those listed, only three were outside of Major Crime. When he was finished, he closed it and added, "Right now, the staff responsible for the care of Beverly and Patty Wilson are being thoroughly investigated. We'll be taking down the number of people who will be allowed anywhere near them to a manageable level."

"Good, good. And Wilson's statement?"

"Almost done," Jim assured him. "Connor and Brown are with him now. When we've got everything we need, we'll be taking him to Saint Luke's by helicopter. Roof to roof, Sir. Very little chance of Henderson making a try for him that way."


At that moment, Joel poked his head around the door. "Jim, this just arrived for you. I wouldn't have interrupted, but it's marked urgent." He held out a paper-thin package.

Something about the innocuous envelope sent shivers running up and down Jim's spine and, judging by the way Blair moved forward, he was receiving the same vibes. Jim beat him to the hand-out, opened it - and hissed out a low, angry, "Damn."

Blair moved next to him, knowing in his gut what he was going to see.

In Jim's hand - a photo. Just one.

Of Jake.

Proud that his voice wasn't shaking, Blair said, "From this morning, Jim. I dropped him off and he turned and ... that. He... waved. You know, the way he always does." Then in wonder, "From this morning."

Simon was on his feet in an instant. Even as he moved to Jim's side, Jim was handing him the photo. Simon took one look at the happy, smiling face of Jake and said, "Obviously Henderson knows you visited Wilson. But I can't believe he had the gall to have it delivered here. Not some place private, where you'd find it when you were alone, oh, no, right here, where you work, and knowing that it would be delivered no matter where you were."

Blair listened as he took out his cell. A moment later, the phone on the other end was answered.

//"Mount Rainier School, may I help you?"//

"Yes, this is Detective Sandburg. I'd like to speak with Mrs. Andrews. This is an emergency." He just had time to make eye contact with Jim when another voice came on.

//"Detective Sandburg? This is Betty Andrews. What's wrong?"//

"As you know, my son Jake is in Mrs. Wheaton's class in room twelve. I need you to make sure no one goes near him other than your staff and you need to keep him in the classroom until Detective Ellison arrives. Is that clear?"

//"I'm on my way now."//

Blair, thanking God and everyone else for a principal with a brain, hung up. Jim opened the door and without a word, both men sprinted for the elevator even as Simon began barking orders.

Down in the parking lot, Blair grabbed Jim's arm, his face pale, the underground lighting giving it a pasty cast. "Jim, you know... I need to--"

"I know, Chief. I know. I'll meet you there. Don't worry."

Blair nodded and added, "Don't scare him, Jim. Don't ... scare him."

"I won't. Now go."

Blair ran for the Volvo while Jim sprinted for the truck. A few moments later, they pulled out onto the street, one behind the other, with Blair turning left and heading for his mother, Jim turning right and the school.

He took the steps two and three at a time but was barely breathing hard when he knocked, rather frantically, on the door to 307. He was getting ready to bust it down, even though it had only been seconds, when his mother opened the door.

"Honey, what--"

"Mom, get your purse and come with me now."

Naomi was nothing if not well versed in cop-speak, and her beloved son was currently using his most formidable cop voice. She didn't hesitate. She grabbed her purse from the chair even as Blair was holding out her coat. She slipped into it and allowed him to guide her out the door. As they descended the stairs, she wasn't even surprised by the way he kept his hand near his gun. Something was wrong, but the time to ask questions was not now.

Jim ran down the hall of the private school but as he turned the corner that would lead him to his son's room, he slowed to a more acceptable pace, not wanting to scare any one he might encounter. He could hear the children from Jake's classroom asking questions about colors, could hear Jake, voice calm and untroubled asking if he could use another tube of blue. Jim couldn't help himself; he smiled. Then he rested against the cool tiled wall of the school and closed his eyes. His senses on alert, he spent precious minutes calming down so that his son wouldn't sense any unrest, worry or fear. When he was certain he was ready, he faced the door and knocked. He could hear the scraping back of a chair followed by the sound of high-heels clicking on the linoleum. A moment later, he was facing Jake's teacher. She looked back, motioned for the principal, and stepped out into the hall.

Principal Andrews joined them a few seconds later. She looked unruffled and calm as she said, "No one who shouldn't be here, has been anywhere near Jake or his classroom, Detective. Do you need to take him?"

"Yes, I'm afraid I do. And thank you for how you've handled this. I know--"

Principal Andrews lifted a hand to stop him. "It's quite all right. We understand." She turned to Pam Wheaton and said, "Why don't you get Jake ready while I keep Detective Ellison company?"

Jake's teacher nodded and disappeared back inside the classroom. Once the door closed, the principal turned back to Jim. "I don't suppose you can tell me anything?"

"No, I'm afraid not. But two squad cars are on their way now and they'll remain the rest of the day. It may also be necessary to have a couple of plainclothesmen on the premises, but my boss, Captain Simon Banks will let you know about that. If any strangers show up asking about Jake, or if you receive any phone calls, contact Major Crime immediately."

"Of course." She held out her hand and when Jim took it, she covered his with her other one. "I hope everything is all right. Jake is a wonderful boy, Detective, with two wonderful parents."

Holding his emotions at bay, Jim said, "Thank you. And thank you again for your help today."

She was stopped from answering by the opening door and Jake, who looked up at his father, eyes wide.


Jim immediately went down on one knee and, while making a fuss over Jake's jacket, said, "Ssh, don't tell anyone, especially not Mrs. Wheaton or Principal Andrews, but we're busting you out of here today and letting you spend some time with daddy and me at the station. How does that sound?"

Looking up at his teacher, who grinned, Jake said, "but what 'bout my piccie, poppy?"

"Well, can you finish it tomorrow?"

Jake looked at his teacher again, who nodded.

"i guess so, but what 'bout my nomi?"

"That's the very best part, Jake. She's going to be there too."

"oh. okay then. we can go now," Jake said with a firm nod of his head. Then he wagged a finger as he added, "but i have to finish my piccie tomorrow, 'kay?"

Jim fought back a grin. "You got it, Hoss." He lifted his son into his arms, saluted Principal Andrews and headed out of the school.

Outside, he had all his senses on alert, but the street was quiet and empty. There were only a half a dozen parked cars - all as empty as the street. As he put Jake into his car seat, he hoped Blair was having the same success with his mother.

In the lobby, Blair held his mother behind him as he checked out the door and the sidewalk beyond. Satisfied that no one was loitering in the vicinity of the building, he slowly opened the door and stepped out. Keeping Naomi safe on the other side, he scanned the street, hand on the butt of his gun.

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he motioned to his mother and opened the door. She joined him on the sidewalk and, keeping his arm around her and her body slightly behind his own, he started for the Volvo. He expected to see a couple of squad cars at any time, knowing that Simon had ordered them for both here and Jake's school, but so far, nothing.

What happened next - happened fast. He was just about to step down onto the street when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a dark blue Ford turn onto Prospect. The slow and apparent cruising speed of the vehicle, combined with the fact that all the windows were tinted, sent every single one of Blair's alarms to go off. In one fluid motion, he had his gun out, while at the same time, the passenger window of the Ford lowered.

Blair quickly discovered that it wasn't only in television or the movies where events unfolded in slow motion.

He could feel his hair whip around as he turned, knew he was yelling at his mother even as he pushed her down and behind a car illegally parked at the curb. He could see her eyes, wide with terror, as bullets slammed into the building behind her. He heard the sirens of the finally approaching squad cars, watched his hand, almost as if it belonged to someone else, fly up, gun nestled against his palm -- and heard his mother yelling his name even as he began to fire at the car.

One of his bullets hit its target; the left front tire, and the car skidded wildly, bounced off a parked car on the other side of the street and back into traffic. One of the arriving squad cars careened to the right of the out-of-control vehicle, narrowly missing it, but the squad car directly behind it wasn't so lucky. The Ford hit it with its tail-end as it swerved again. The blow was enough to tilt the Ford onto its left tires, and thanks to the blow-out - the vehicle simply toppled over onto its side.

Silence. Blessed silence.

Three more squad cars had been added to the mix and, together, they effectively blocked the south end of Prospect. Two officers stood, hats off, mouths open, as white steam poured out from under the hood of their car. Two other officers were slowly and cautiously moving in on the Ford, guns out and ready, and still two others were controlling the quiet crowd of people that had begun to gather.

Slowly Blair put his gun back into its holster and turned to face his mother.

"Blair? Honey? You okay?"

"I am if you are, Mom."

Naomi blinked at that and finally gave him a half-hearted smile. "I'm fine, honey. Just ... just fine." She looked over his shoulder at the cops and the Ford and the crowd and said, "You are going to tell me, right?"

Smiling, Blair took her arm and led her to the Volvo.

"So a classic case of misdirection."

"Yes, sir. Henderson expected us to panic, to send the troops to Jake's school while his men...."

Jim stopped, his eyes on Blair.

"While his men took Naomi. That's what you were going to say, right, Jim?"

"Right, Chief."

All three men looked out the window of Simon's office, at Naomi and Jake, who were surrounded by the men and women of Major Crime. Jake was seated on top of Blair's desk, Naomi behind him. They were laughing as Joel made weird puppet figures with his hands and Jake tried to copy them.

"We were lucky today, Chief."

"Yeah. We were."

"Gentlemen, we all were. Connor and Brown are on their way to Henderson's now, warrants in their back pockets. Mark and his family are together, safe and sound, and we've got two of Henderson's men singing a sweet tune down in interrogation with Rafe and Evans. I think we're going to be bringing Henderson down a whole lot sooner than we thought. And if that weren't enough, we get the pleasure of your mother's company, not to mention Jake's, for the rest of the day." Simon stood up, took a wrapped cigar from his pocket, waved it around and added, "Yep, I'd say we're darn lucky." He jabbed the cigar into his mouth and grinned.

"You know, Chief, he has a point. What say we join our son and your mother? And don't we owe him dinner at Luigi's?"

"I do believe we do, Jim."

Smiling, Jim opened the door and let Blair precede him out.

"daddy! lookee what i can do!"

They walked up to the desks as Jake started making odd shapes with his small hands. As he wiggled his fingers, his movements were accompanied by noises that, thankfully, clued his parents in on what he was making.


"Jim, would you look at that? Jake made a cow," Blair said, amazed.

"Well, I'll be darned, it is a cow," Jim said proudly.

"Uhm, Jake?" Blair touched his chin, a subtle hint that Jake had spaghetti sauce all over it.

"ooops." Jake giggled and picked up his napkin. As he rubbed it over his face, he mumbled, "i be very messy tonight."

Laughing, Jim ruffled the blond curls and said, "I'll say. I'm going to check your ears later to make sure you don't have any spaghetti in there, young man."

Still giggling, Jake went back to eating - one noodle at a time.

Naomi watched from her place on the other side of the booth, her eyes warm and full of grateful love. She knew she'd have to wait until later to find out all the pertinent facts, but she was nothing if not patient. For now she was content to sit, watch, and enjoy her family.

Stuffed to the gills, the Ellison-Sandburg-Porters left Luigi's with the intention of going to the loft so Naomi could get the unvarnished truth about the afternoon. As Jim was handing Jake off to Blair, his cell rang. He fumbled in his pocket, pulled it out, flipped it open and said, "Ellison."

//"Jim, Henderson is dead. He apparently didn't like the idea of submitting to the warrant. Henri was forced to shoot him when he pulled a gun and fired at Connor. I held off calling until I had all the facts. He died fifteen minutes ago. It's over."//

His hand on Blair's arm, fingers rubbing Jake's leg, Jim said, "Thanks, Simon. I'll fill Sandburg in.

Blair sipped the brandy and watched Jim light the fire. His mother was putting coffee on in the kitchen and, in what used to be Blair's room, Jake slept soundly, completely unaware of how close things had been for them today. No, that wasn't true. Jake was very intuitive and much like a few weeks previous, when they'd come close to losing him without his knowledge, he'd crawled onto Blair's lap earlier, content to be close, to sit quietly and play with Blair's hands. When he and Jim had taken him upstairs to bed, he'd hugged them both, a bit longer than usual, kissed them both, and then gently patted each of their cheeks as if to say, "it's okay, everything's okay." Leave it to Jake to do the comforting. At that moment, Jim joined him and, for a moment, it was very much like old times.

A late night in the loft, just the two of them, after a hard day on the streets. Outside, a light rain was falling while inside a fire blazed brightly. The only difference between now and those "good old days" was the fact that they weren't alone at all. A small, innocent boy slept safe and sound behind them and his mother was puttering in the kitchen of the loft she now owned. Blair smiled as he remembered that there was one other difference between then and now. Now - or rather - later -- Blair would be making urgent and sweet love to Jim. He wouldn't have done that in the old days. His smile widened as he brought the brandy snifter to his lips. An elbow in his side told him Jim was watching him.

"Why the secret smile, Chief?"

"Oh, nothing. Just thinking of the old days."

Jim placed his hand on Blair's thigh and squeezed gently. "There's a lot to be said for the new days, Chief."

"GMTA, Jim."

At Jim's puzzled look, Blair clarified with a grin. "Great minds think alike."

"Ah." He squeezed again and moved his hand up a bit, only to have it swatted away as Blair mouthed, "Mom". Jim chuckled, took Blair's snifter, swirled the amber liquid, and finally took a sip. As he put the glass back in Blair's hand, he said softly, "Tasting you in the brandy will hold me."

Before Blair could say anything, Naomi joined them. She took the couch opposite and said, "Okay, time to talk, boys."

Blair screwed up his face. "Mo-om, we're not 'boys', okay? The boy is upstairs and sound asleep in your bed."

"Bla-air, to me, you're boys. Now stop stalling and spill."

Jim put his hand on Blair's arm and said, "Let me."

"Good luck, man," Blair muttered.

"Okay, basically, we've been working on a case involving Craig Henderson--"

"The slum lord?"

"Figures mom would know about him, Jim."

"Of course I do, sweetie. I've been working on the Sixty-Eighth Street project for over seven weeks, remember? And two weeks ago, we finally traced the ownership of five of the buildings to Henderson. We've been preparing the paperwork to deliver to John - you remember Johnny, don't you, honey? Had the legal aid clinic in Berkeley back in the eighties?"

"Uhm... right, yeah. Didn't his wife name you--"

"No, she did not, young man. He was in love with their housekeeper."

"Oh, right. The wife only thought it was you, what with all the time you were--"

"We seemed to have strayed from our primary discussion, which is okay by me. Personally I'm enjoying this walk you two are taking down memory lane," Jim said with an innocent grin.

"Of course you are, Jim. You won't have to tell me everything if Blair and I keep it up. But we're not, so you are," Naomi finished pointedly.

Blair drew a "one" in the air in front of Jim's face.

Coughing slightly, Jim smacked his hand down and said, "Yes, well. So... where was I?"

"Henderson, Jim, dear," Blair said as, with great exaggeration, as he pretended to nurse his undamaged hand.

"Later, Sandburg," Jim said in a loud stage whisper.

Blair gave a mock shiver. "Oooh, I'm so afraid."

Naomi gave out with an exaggerated sigh, one loud enough to stop her "boys", and said, "No, Blair, you're wrong. Jake is not the only boy in this loft."

"You heard your mother, Sandburg. Now straighten up."

One eyebrow rose as Blair cocked his head. "I could, Jim, but is that what you really want?"

"God, I hate you sometimes," Jim said in a put-upon voice.

"Boys? Henderson?" Naomi said in a voice Blair recognized as the rarely used, "I'm the mother here" voice.

"Jim overheard Henderson discussing the fact that he'd killed a man named Walter Gibson and his wife. It was a foggy night, Jim was quite a distance away, so he couldn't very well arrest the man based on what he'd seen and overheard. But it put the wheels in motion to find the evidence in a more... acceptable way. We found out that Gibson had owned a company and that he'd lost it following a hostile takeover by Henderson. We also found out, via Gibson's computer records and a disk he'd sent to his daughter, that he had proof of some major wrongdoing on Henderson's part during the takeover.

"Said proof would have put Henderson away for years, hence, we had our motive. But, Henderson had an iron-clad alibi that we couldn't break -- until one of Henderson's ex-employee's, Brian Singleton, approached Jim and informed us that he'd met with Henderson two hours before the murder. This was pretty significant because, according to Singleton, Henderson met him at his home in Lexington Heights. Gibson also lived in Lexington Heights, and of even more significance, Henderson's alibi placed him at the Oakwood Country Club from seven in the evening until well after midnight."

"Oakwood?" Naomi questioned. "But that's clear across the bay. What time--"

"Singleton claims to have met with Henderson for thirty minutes. He said Henderson arrived at eleven, left by eleven thirty. The time of death for Gibson and his wife was set between nine and midnight."

Seeing Naomi's interest, Jim jumped in. "Plenty of people claim to have seen Henderson at the benefit, and there was a reporter from the society section of the Gazette there with a photographer. A photo was taken of Henderson with Matthew Brady, the director of Cascade General Hospital. But the time of the photo shoot was early, around eight. Brady himself didn't remember seeing Henderson much after that, but neither he nor anyone else could be pinned down precisely."

"So until Singleton came along, you couldn't prove or disprove his alibi - exactly."

"You're good, Mom."

She smiled. "A year, Blair. A year. Okay, so you had Singleton, and he tore apart Henderson's alibi. And you had motive. Sounds good to me. What happened?"

"The defense cast doubt on the computer evidence; too easy to tamper with, and they brought out the fact that Singleton had been fired just twenty-four hours before he'd shown up at the PD. That was enough for the judge to throw it out. And yes, rightfully so," Jim added.

"The truth is, mom, we were too caught up in catching him to realize that the DA was moving too fast and taking it to court too early. We blew it, big time."

Jim then told Naomi about Wilson, his family, and finally, what led to the "rescue". When he was done, he and Blair waited for the inevitable, "I knew this would happen some day." It didn't come in the form they both expected.

"Well, I suppose it's part of what any police officer has to deal with. I can only say that with your senses, Jim, we've got quite a leg up, don't we?"

Jim's mouth dropped open, as did Blair's. They looked at each other, eyes wide, before turning, in perfect unison, back towards Naomi. Again, in perfect unison, they said, "Mom?"

Blair turned to Jim and said, "Mom?"

Jim shrugged. "Mom."

Naomi laughed, a young, free laugh, and said, "Mom."

Blair canted his head to the right and made a motion as if clearing water out of his ear. "This, from the two people who, a few years ago, were flirting up a storm and sharing tongue on Jim's bed?"

"Now, Blair, honey, you know darn well that Jim was simply pumping me for information about you. Sharing tongue indeed." She got up, picked up the empty brandy glass and coffee cups, and straightened. "I hope you both don't think you're okay with what happened today, because we all know - you're not. But you will be."

With that, she walked into the kitchen.

With a shake of his head, Jim said, "Damn, she's smart."

Jake never moved as he was carried down to the Volvo, driven home, carried into the apartment, undressed, and put to bed. Both men stood over him, arms around each other.

"It was never close with him, but it sure felt like it," Jim whispered.

"I know."

"We just... do the best we can, Chief."

"I know."

"Close calls - a way of life for the Ellison-Sandburg-Porter household."


"Seniority has its privileges, and we've had this conversation before. It's Ellison-Sandburg-Porter."

"I say we do it alphabetically," Blair suggested, his eyes never leaving his son's face.

"Right. Ellison-Porter-Sandburg."

"No-o-o, Blair-Jake-Jim."

"I walked into that one, didn't I?"

"Oh, yeah."

They continued to look down at Jake. After several minutes, Blair said, "You know what you said about doing the best we can?"


"Let's retire to the bedroom and do the best we can."

"I like your thinking, Chief."

They took turns dropping soft kisses on one sweet, warm cheek before moving quietly into the hall. As they walked to their bedroom, Jim said, "Less than three weeks, Chief. Three weeks."

"I know...."

Tuesday, September 26, 2000 - three days to the Big Five

The table in the conference room was littered with papers, empty coffee cups, and boxes holding the remnants of dinner. Outside, it was dark and windy.

"That won't work, Connor," Rafe complained.

"It will. We'll make it work."

"What time is it?" Brown asked as he searched the coffee cups for any with coffee left that he could down.

"What happened to your watch?"

"Who knows? Who cares. It's late, we've gone nowhere fast, I have a sweet thing waiting for me, and you guys can't decide--"

"You still seeing Stella?" Blair asked.

"Blair, my man, I said I had a sweet thing waiting for me."

Jim made like he was studying the ceiling as he said slowly, "She has ... blonde hair; curly. And ... brown eyes. She's friendly, affectionate, and--"

"Whoa, Jim. You mean you've seen her?" Megan asked as she moved the maps around on the table.

"...and she likes... Jerky Treats - chicken flavored," Jim finished with a wicked grin.

The five detectives stopped what they were doing to stare at him. Finally, Henri said, "Damn, he's good."

Rafe frowned. "Wait. You're dating a girl who likes... chicken-flavored Jerky Treats? Is that something you really want to admit to, Brown?"

Joel put his arm around Rafe's shoulders. "Rafe, it's a dog."

"She's a dog? You're dating a dog, H? You?"

Laughing, Blair said, "A real dog, Rafe. As in Jim figured out that H wants to get home to his new puppy. Bow-wow?"

Rafe turned puzzled eyes to Brown. "You got a dog?"

Eyes on the ceiling, Brown said, "Yes, Rafe - I got a dog, okay?"

"Wow. You and a dog. A dog. With ... curly hair?" Rafe asked, still puzzled.

"I'm thinking," Jim said as he joined Brown at staring up at the ceiling -- again, "a poodle."

"You are not my friend, bro," Brown said with a disgusted look on his face.

Incredulous, Connor said, "You got a poodle?"

"Hey, it just showed up, okay? What was I supposed to do, throw it out?"

Slapping him on the back, Blair said, "You're a good man, H. Now, can we get down to business so we can all go home? Who's in charge of the face-painting guy?"

"The guy is a gal, and I am," Connor said. "And she's real good too. She's from the Sixth Precinct and does it every year at the Cascade Founders Day celebration. She's thrilled to be asked."

"Cool. Okay, Joel, did you get the prices for the Tilt-a-Whirl?" Jim asked as he leaned over the table, his body language clearly telling everyone it was time to get back to work.

"Well, you see, Camp James - you remember them, Blair? We helped them when--"

"Oh, yeah, Camp James Productions. They do corporate picnics and stuff, and summer camps for kids. We took care of--"

"Point?" Brown said as he pointed up to the clock on the wall.

"They're having a big event at Saint Luke's on the Friday night before the party and as you know, Saint Luke's is around the corner from Simon's, and they're willing to give us a Tilt-a-Whirl and the small merry-go-round... and... an ... elephant." At the stares, he said somewhat defensively, "You know, for elephant rides?"

There was silence for several seconds until Blair finally said, "We're going to have... elephant rides for Jake's birthday?"

"Well, yes," Joel said, grinning.

"Cool," Jim said.

"But... but... but what about the pony rides?" Connor whined.

"Oh, well, actually... my dad is taking care of that," Jim said after sharing a conspiratorial glance with Blair.

"What aren't you telling us, Jim?" Joel asked, his interest piqued.

"He's not telling you about Jake's pony."

With a pointed look in Blair's direction, Jim said, "Like I need to tell them when I have a little bird," he made a motion with his hands, simulating bird wings, "spilling the beans?"

"What am I missing here?" Rafe asked.

"Rafe, what is it with you and animals? First a dog, and now a horse," H complained.

Rafe screwed up his face, sratched the top of his head with three fingers and said, "Now, Ollie...."

"Guys?" Connor said patiently. "The horse?"

"Look, Jake wants a horse for his birthday, okay?" Jim finally said. "And Sandburg and I may have mentioned this to my - you know - father."

Light bulbs went on over four heads.

"Ah. So you're thinking your old man will buy Jake the horse, right?" H said with an admiring look at Jim.

"But guys, do you want Jake to have a horse?" Connor, perplexed. "That doesn't sound like you two. A horse isn't easy to keep and it's a damn expensive hobby."

"Remember, Jim grew up around horses and stables and--"

"And it's a great way to learn responsibility, not to mention nurturing animals--"

"Jim, we're talking about Jake here. The kid who grooms his stuffed wolf?" H offered.

"Hey, guys," Sandburg interrupted, "don't you think Jim and I have discussed this? In reality, Jim's dad has purchased a pony, which will be temporarily donated, in Jake's name, to his school. When he's older and can learn to ride, it'll be there."

"Wow, that's really terrific," Rafe said. "But aren't you worried that he'll think of it as his?"

"With Jake?" Jim said with a smile. He grinned at Blair, who grinned back, and together they said, "Nope."

"Onya, mates!"

Jim gave Blair a quizzical look so Blair said, "It means well done."

"So why didn't she just say--"

A poke in the ribs stopped Jim from sticking his foot any further into his mouth. Blair grinned as he said, "Look, it's late and I think we have everything under control, so how 'bout we call it day, or should I say a night?"

"Amen, brother," H said. "I have a pup that is probably crossing its legs in frustration."

Rafe frowned. "Do dogs--"

Connor hit him up side the head and said, "As in it has to take a LEAK, Rafe!"

Rubbing his head, Rafe said, "I'm not standing anywhere near you in the future, Connor."

The laughter that erupted quickly brought a smile to Rafe's face and, as Jim and Blair began to gather up the maps and plans, Rafe said, still grinning, "Well, I'm not."

Thursday, September 28, 2000 - two days left

"Have we forgotten anything?" Jim asked as he ran his hands through his hair again. Tufts of it were now standing on end and Blair was pretty sure Jim had never looked cuter.

Smiling at the picture before him, Blair said, "I don't think so, cutie pie."

Jim's head shot up. "Excuse me?"

The personification of innocence, Blair said, "What? What?"

Jim's eyes narrowed. "Cutie pie?"

Blair indicated the top of Jim's head and pointed to the mirror on the wall behind him.

Jim turned and looked. "Well, damn." He quickly ran his fingers through the mess that was his hair, patting it down until he looked normal again. "I swear, Sandburg."

Blair cocked his head. "Have you noticed that whenever you want sex, you call me Sandburg?"

"Sandburg, I call you Sandburg all the time."

"Not my fault you're insatiable and need my body every time I turn around." He held his arms out from his side and gave a charming shrug. 'What can I say? I'm irresistible."

There was no way, looking at Blair at his most charming and ingratiating self, that Jim could stay mad. He grinned even as he gave a small shake of his head. "Sandburg, you're something, all right. I'm just not sure irresistible is the right something."

"Baloney. You want me right now."

Jim chuckled and held up a sheet of paper. "What I want right now, is to know we're done. That this party is set and ready to go."

"We are and it is. All you're doing now is worrying and fussing. I have a few more items to pick up, but other than that, Saturday is a go. Now, do you want to take this," he drew his hand down the length of his body, "to the bedroom, or just do me here on the dining room table?"

A speculative look came into Jim's eyes as he looked at Blair and then the table. He cocked his head to make sure Jake was soundly sleeping and, satisfied that he was, rose to his feet. Looking as if Blair's idea was the furthest thing from his mind, he strolled to the other end of the table. Looking down at his partner, he said, "Really, Sandburg, how you think we could do anything on a table covered with birthday party plans is beyond me."

Blair was up in a shot. With one sweep of his arm, the table was clear. The floor was another story altogether. Before Jim could go into his "sentinel must live in an uncluttered space" mode, he said, "I'll clean it up -- after."

Jim laughed outright even as he backed Blair up against the edge of the table. Leaning over him and bending him back, he growled, "Good thing we didn't polish yesterday. You'd slip and I'd probably break something."

Fumbling with Jim's belt, Blair hissed back, "The only polishing I want to see done, is you polishing me. Got it?"

Jim nuzzled behind Blair's right ear and whispered, "Oh, I'm going to polish you all right. And while I'm polishing you, you'll be buffing the tabletop and I'll get the best of both worlds."

Blair couldn't help the laughter that bubbled up inside. Even as he was partially lifted so his butt rested on the smooth surface of the table, even as Jim busied himself with Blair's zipper, Blair laughed. Jim's own chortles joined his even as they kissed. His back went down and he was actually on the table and he was very glad they'd chosen it because it could really hold both their weights, and then Jim was on top of him, and his jeans were on the floor, and he was laughing again, but it was quickly muffled as Jim's mouth landed on his again.

Lord, he loved this man. And the table.

Especially the table....

Friday, September 29, 2000 - Big Five Birthday day

Jake rolled over and cracked open one eye.

It was daylight .. and it was his birthday. Yippee! He bounded out of bed, snatched up Jakey and immediately ran down the hall to his parent's room. The door was open a bit and he barged in, not even trying for silence. The shades were down but it was still light enough to see. He took the floor on a run and, with a graceful leap that would have made Baryshnikov proud, landed in the middle of the bed. He crawled up the nearest lump and knocked on his poppy's shoulder.

"poppy, poppy, wake up," he whispered loudly before turning to the other lump. "daddy, daddy, wake up, it's my birthday!"


Frowning, he gave his daddy's arm a shake. "dad-dee wake up! i'm five years old now!"

Blair unknowingly mimicked his son's earlier movements by cracking open one eye. He could just make out his son's face and, hiding his smile, he pulled his arm out from under the warmth of the covers and patted his son's face. "Too early, Jake, go back to bed."

Jake reared back, shocked. "but daddy, i'm five years old right now."

"Actually, you were born at one thirteen in the afternoon, so technically - you're not five yet. And by the time you are, you'll be with your grandmother and waiting for your poppy and I to call you from work and wish you a...a... a--"

"happy birthday, daddy!"

"Right, a happy birthday." He lifted his head and peered at his son. "Jake, are you absolutely positive that today is your birthday? You could be mistaken--"


Taking his son off the hook, Blair laughed, grabbed the small boy, and hugged him fiercely as he whispered, "Happy birthday, Jake." He smoothed back the curls from Jake's forehead and added, "Birthday breakfast today, remember?"

Jake, now with a huge grin on his face, nodded. "i 'member. and i get to open one pressie at brekkie, one at lunch with my nomi, and the rest tonight during my 'xtra special birthday dinner, right? an' i get baked pork chops and macaroni and cheesy for my special dinner, and i get my all time favoooorite dessert - choco cakey!"

Jim, who'd been awake for some time, rolled over and plucked Jake from Blair's chest. Bench pressing the giggling and squirming boy high into the air, he said with a grin that matched his son's, "Aren't you forgetting cupcakes at school?"

Laughing wildly, Jake shook his head and stuttered out, "nnn-noo-ooo!"

Jim brought him down within reach of his face and kissed him on the cheek. "Happy birthday, Jake. You ready for birthday waffles?"

"yippppppeee! me an' jakey are ready, poppy!"

Blair rolled out of bed, ignored his slippers since he was wearing thick socks, pulled on his robe and said, "Okay, gang, birthday breakfast on its way." He walked around the bed, grabbed Jake from Jim, tucked him, still giggling, under his arm and marched out the room and into the hall. "Get your ass in gear, Ellison."

As he walked down the hall, Jake, stuck against his father's body, kicked madly and giggled loudly, even as he waved Jakey in the air. "dadddddddy!"

Blair looked down at the bobbing wolfpup and said, "Jakey, do you hear something?"


"I hear something odd, Chief," Jim said as he came up behind his partner. "And what's this?" He waggled one wiggling and socked foot.

"that's me, popp-eeeeee!"

"Ah, the birthday boy. Isn't it amazing that you have five," he tweaked each toe on Jake's right foot, "toes and you're five years old today?"

Still giggling, Jake said, "it's a mir-rakle, poppy!"

Blair entered the kitchen, Jim right behind him and still tweaking toes. Blair deposited his son on the booth seat and said, "Were we having string bean waffles or spinach waffles, Mister Birthday Boy?"

Jake, standing on the bench seat, shook his head wildly. "noononononono, banama waffles, daddy! banama waffles!"

Blair frowned as Jim walked over the fridge and pulled a sack of frozen spinach out of the freezer. "Here we go, Chief, the spinach for the waffles."

"See, Jake? I knew it was spinach waffles for your birthday breakfast."

"nononononono, i'm sure i said banama waffles." He leaned in toward his daddy, put a hand on either side of Blair's face, and when they were nose to nose, said, "'bery, bery sure!"

Laughing again, Blair swept Jake back into his arms, walked over to the counter, and sat him down on the edge. "Right, bana*ma* waffles. So it shall be."

The next several minutes were spent in happy preparation of waffles, bacon and fresh squeezed orange juice. Jake stirred his waffle mix at his poppy's directions before helping Blair put the bacon slices on the parchment paper that Blair spread out on the cookie sheet. When his daddy put him under his arm again, he giggled and watched as the cookie sheet was carried to the oven. He helped by opening the oven door and giggled when he was once again deposited on the bench seat at the table. He sat down on his phone book and watched, mesmerized, as colorful birthday plates were set down on bright red placemats. A special birthday cup was placed next to his plate, and his eyes widened as he recognized his name on the cup.

"daddy, that cup has my name on it!"

"Aren't you the birthday boy?" Jim asked from where he stood at the counter, the waffle maker pinging to let him know that the first waffle was done.

"i am, poppy, i am!"

"Well, there ya go. Only birthday boys born today, exactly five years ago, get a very special birthday cup with their name on it." He put the waffle on a plate, put the plate in the top oven to keep the waffle warm, and started the second one.

"wow," Jake said as he lifted his cup. He twirled it in his hand and finally kissed the cup and set it lovingly back on the table next to brightly colored plate.

Eventually, Jim had three waffles and the bacon was ready. While Blair got the bacon out, Jim put the crispy, golden brown waffles on a large platter and watched while Blair arranged the bacon. When he was done, Jim carried the platter to the table while Blair got the pitcher of orange juice. Both were set down but before Blair slid into his seat next to Jake, he held up a finger, looked at the table, and said, "Something's missing."

Jake, puzzled, pointed to the waffles and said, "my banama waffles, my bacon, my orange juice, and," he picked up his birthday cup with both hands, "my birfday cup. no, daddy, nothing is missing."

"Yes, there is, isn't there, Jim?"

"I do believe you're correct, Chief."

Blair walked out of the kitchen, and while Jake continued to stand and watch the swinging door, eyes wide with wonder, Blair popped back in. But his hands now held one gaily wrapped package about the size of a hat box. He set it in the middle of the table and said, as he slid in next to his son, "We forgot the centerpiece."

Jim, holding back his smile, said, "What a stroke of genius, Sandburg. That almost looks like a real present."

Jake just kept looking at the box, at the bright, shiny, foil wrapped gift with the curling yellow ribbons. Slowly he reached out to touch it as he said, "it's beeeeutiful, daddy."

"It is, isn't it? Now eat your waffles before they get cold. We have boysenberry syrup just for you."

While Jim poured the syrup over Jake's waffle, he continued to stare at the package. Finally he asked, "daddy, what's a ... center... piece?"

Cutting into his waffle, Blair said, "You know, like last Thanksgiving, the big turkey in the middle of the table? That's a centerpiece. Something that decorates the center of the table."


Jake continued to stare, his waffle ignored.

"Of course, in this case, our centerpiece is also your first gift of the day and as soon as you finish your birthday breakfast, you can open it," Blair said as he shared a conspiratorial look with Jim.

"oh my." Jake dove into his waffle.

The table was cleared, the dishes in the dishwasher, and Jake was free of a syrupy face. Blair had just returned from the "bathroom" to find Jake bouncing in his seat, eyes focused on the package that still sat in the middle of the table, fingers itching to get at it. "now, daddy? now?" he asked as Blair sat down.

Looking at him with feigned surprise, he asked, "Now what, Jake?"

"Yeah, Hoss, now what, what?"

Blowing out some air, Jake rolled his eyes and said, "my pressie! can i open it now, please?"

"Oh, that," Jim and Blair said together. Laughing, they nodded, and Blair said, "It's all yours, Hoss. Go for it."

A huge smile on his face, Jake reached out and brought the package toward him. He started with the ribbon and, with his fathers help, got it undone. Then eager fingers went at the paper itself until a square white box was revealed. Hands shaking, he lifted the lid, got up on his knees, peeled back the tissue paper... and peered inside. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally lifted his head and said, "wow."

Jim and Blair shared pleased looks as Jake reached inside and took out the first item his fingers came into contact with; a huge tin box of water color paints. Next came a set of paint brushes ranging in size from big and fat to thin and fine. His eyes grew impossibly wider. He dipped back in and this time pulled out a huge box of neon colored crayons. Another soft "wow" was expelled before he placed the box lovingly on top of the tin of water color paints. Back in he went, this time to pull out a box set of colored marking pens with tips that looked like brushes. Now smalls jars of colors were removed and he recognized them as the same kind he used at school. There were five jars in all, each representing one of the primary colors. The box was now empty.

"ohmy," Jake said again as he gazed with joy upon his haul. He looked up at his fathers and added, "i can make a whoooooole," he spread his arms out wide, his fathers leaning back to avoid them, "bunch of piccies now, daddy and poppy!" He threw his arms around first Blair, and favored him with a huge smooshy kiss before bestowing the same on Jim. "i'll make the bestest piccies in the whole wide world now!"

Blair frowned and said, "Uhm, we still seem to be missing something, though."

Looking very thoughtful, Jake said, "what, daddy?"

"I don't know, Jake. Jim, what do you think?"

Jim peeked into the box and said, "Well, it's very empty, Chief. But you know, he has all these great supplies, but I don't see anything to paint on."

"that's okay, poppy, i have a whole bunch of paper in my room," Jake said magnanimously.

"Are you sure?" Jim asked, looking worried.

Jake nodded firmly. "i be sure. come on and i'll show you." He put all his goodies back in the box, gave Jim a soft push, urging him out of the nook, and when Jim was standing, he slid off his phone book and scooted out and onto the floor. He started to reach for his box, but Jim leaned over him and picked it up.

"I'll carry it for you."

"'kay." Jake started out the door, but looked back to ensure his fathers were following. He led them through their home to his bedroom. At the door, he pushed his way inside, took three steps and came to a dead stop. "ohmy," he said again.

There, on the other side of his play table, stood a brightly painted - red-- wooden easel with a thick pad of paper in place, just like the ones Jake used at school. Only difference with the easel in Jake's room was the big yellow bow draped across the pad. Blair walked past his stunned son and said, "The legs are adjustable, Jake, so it can even sit on your play table. Right now, it's set to your height, see?"

Jake walked over slowly, and when he was standing in front of it, he ran a finger over the smooth red wood and finally down across the lip at the bottom where his crayons or brushes could sit. "it's so beeeeeeeeutiful, daddy and poppy. an' it's the most perfectness size for me!" He turned a shining face to his parents before launching himself at them.

"Okay, your grandmother will be here early to pick you up and she'll be bringing the birthday cupcakes, okay?"

Jake looked up at his father and nodded. "chocoooolate, right?"

Jim nodded. "With chocolate sprinkles, as ordered, sir!" He gave his son a mock salute, took his hand, and led him up the steps and into the school. At the classroom, Jake slipped away to almost jump into Corky's arms, who immediately said, "happy birthday, jakey!"

Jim watched as the other children gathered around their birthday boy. Jake immediately started telling everyone about his "birthday brekkie" and all the presents he'd received in "one bery big box". Jim shook his head at the wording and wondered when Jake would go back to speaking "normally". Blair seemed to understand, but Jim just didn't get it.

"Detective Ellison."

He turned to find Jake's teacher standing next to him. "Mrs. Wheaton."

"Sounds as though he had a great morning all ready," she commented with a smile.

"His father and I may have ... spoiled him ... a bit," Jim admitted.

"I don't think so. Jake is one of the most unselfish children in this school. Whatever you're doing, it's right." She tucked some hair behind her ear and said, "We'll be seeing Naomi around noon?"

He nodded, his gaze back on his son. "She'll have the cupcakes and punch." He faced Mrs. Wheaton again and with a smile, said, "And if she forgets anything, well, she's new to all of this, so just bear with her."

Surprised, she said, "But surely, with Detective Sandburg--"

"They traveled around quite a bit and birthdays celebrated with classrooms wasn't usually in the cards."

"Ah, I see. Well, don't worry, we can cover anything she might forget."

"Thank you." Jim raised his hand and caught Jake's eye. Mouthing his good-bye, he turned to leave and said, "We will see you tomorrow at the party, right?"

"I'll be there, Detective. Wouldn't miss it."

Jim didn't miss the humor in her voice. He knew darn well she was talking about the elephant ride.

The loft was filled with the smells of baking pork chops and bubbling macaroni and cheese. Because Jake's party was the next afternoon and Naomi knew there'd be decorations galore, she'd gone subtle in the loft. A banner was stretched across the entrance to the kitchen that proclaimed it "Jake's Day" and on the dining room table she'd placed a huge balloon-themed centerpiece. In further efforts to be "subtle", she'd tied three brightly colored mylar balloons to each chair. The table itself was covered in a red cloth with yellow plastic plates at each place setting that said "Happy Birthday" in red. It wasn't hard for anyone to figure that Jake's favorite colors were red and yellow.

At the moment, while Naomi and Jim worked in the kitchen preparing the salad, and Blair finished frosting Jake's birthday cake, the birthday boy was in what was his room when he spent the night.

Jim, in the middle of slicing tomatoes, suddenly froze. He cocked his head, and Blair, used to such moments, stopped what he was doing. Jim finally put a finger to his lips and moved cautiously toward the French doors while beckoning to Blair and Naomi. Drawing closer to the doors, Blair and his mother could now hear what Jim had been listening to.

Jake was singing.

Naomi moved quietly to the opposite side of the doors and Blair sneaked in front of Jim to get a better view. Inside, Jake was on his stomach at the foot of the futon, head hanging over the edge, jean-clad legs dancing in the air as he sang a nonsensical song with words only he understood. His coloring book and new crayons were on the floor and, at the moment, forgotten in his enjoyment of his made-up musical score. His voice was high, clear and sweet as only a small boy's voice can be, while his hands danced in tune with his song as he wove his magical moment in the small room.

Naomi held a hand to her mouth as she smiled at the sight, her eyes involuntarily filling with joyful tears. Across from her, Jim rested his hands on Blair's shoulders as they simply watched and listened.

Eventually, Jim gave Blair a squeeze and they backed slowly away. Naomi, with a final look at the wonderful sight, followed. As all three of them entered the kitchen, the oven pinged, signifying that dinner was ready.

Blair hurried over to the cake, finished frosting it, and with a squeeze-tube of yellow icing, wrote "Happy Birthday, Jake". Then, while Naomi put the salad bowl on the table and Jim took out the baked pork chops and macaroni and cheese, he added five yellow candles, put a lid over the cake, set it under the stovetop and took down Naomi's fancy cake dish with the flowery dome. He set it prominently on the sink. Jim took off the oven mits and walked back over to the French doors saying, "If anyone wants dinner, it's ready."

Inside, the singing stopped... and a moment later, a small voice repeated, "dinner?"

"Yep, dinner. We're having a birthday dinner of liver and onions, rutabaga, and mushrooms. You ready?"

He waited, grinning. He didn't have long to wait as Jake jumped off the bed and skidded to a stop at the doorway. He peeked out and up at his father.

"ruta... ruta...bega?"

"Well, sure. Just like you asked."


"Just liked you--"


"But what, honey/" Naomi asked as she wiped her hands with a kitchen towel. "Isn't that what you requested?"

"but-but--what's... ruta...ruta..bega? because i asked for macaroni and cheesy with daddy's porky chops and i don't even know what rutybega is so how could i have asked for it? daddy?"

Blair peered over at the long, glass casserole dish and said, "Well, I'm not sure, but this looks a lot like liver and onions and mushrooms and rutabaga, which is a vegetable, and I'm sure you told me that this was what you wanted, but maybe you'd better come over and look?"

"Yeah, Hoss, why don't you double check?" Jim lifted Jake up and tilted him upside down before carrying him over to Blair and their dinner. He raised him high enough so that the now giggling boy could see his birthday dinner, and said, "There, see? Just like you ordered. Liver and onions covered in fried rutabaga and mushrooms."

Jake was laughing and wiggling but when he actually looked at the casserole, he bubbled up with, "that's my mac and cheesy and porky chops, poppy!!!"

"Are you sure, Hoss?"

"i'm bery, bery, bery sure, aren't i, daddy?"

Blair leaned in and sniffed their bubbling, cheesy dinner. "You know, you may be right. When I thought I was cooking liver, it appears I was actually cooking pork chops. Well, what do you know about that?"

Jim righted his son and immediately walked over to the table and let Jake slide down his arm and into his chair. "Well, Hoss, looks like you got what you asked for after all, eh?"

"you betcha!"

Naomi brought the salad dressing and milk for Jake (beers were already in place for Jim and Blair) while Blair brought the casserole. He set it down in front of Jake and took a good whiff. "Mmmm, Jake, you chose well for your birthday dinner."

Looking proudly up at his father, he said, "i did, didn't i?"

"Yes, you did." Blair forked one of the juicy, golden brown pork chops onto Jake's plate and followed it up with a couple of heaping spoonfuls of the macaroni and cheese. He then added a helping of salad - with plenty of croutons - before passing the bowl to Naomi, who would only be having the salad. Jim served himself and Blair and then poured Jake's milk. As Blair took his seat, Naomi said, "Happy birthday, Jake."

Jake already had a forkful of cheese-covered shell-shaped pasta and was blowing on it. At his grandmother's words, he said, "thank you, my nomi" and, with a grin, shoved the food into his mouth.

"Yes, well, no one can say our son isn't polite," Jim observed with a wry grin.

Jake sat on the counter as one father washed and the other dried. He'd been eyeing the covered cake platter from the beginning even as he kicked his legs and bounced his tennis shoes off the drawer. Now he leaned around so he was looking upside down at his father as he asked, "poppy, will i always get what i want for my birthday dinner?"

"You sure will, as long as it's within reason. It's a tradition. Remember how I got Wonderburger for mine a couple of months ago?"

"so if i wanted mickey mouse pancakes for dinner, i could have them?"


"so if i wanted peanut butter and banama samwiches, i could have that?"


"so if i wanted... a hot fudgy Sunday, i could have that?"

Jim started to say "Yep", but a nudge in his side by his partner stopped him. He took his sudsy hand and started to place it over Jake's face, but Jake was quick. He pulled back, giggling, and said, "i almost had you, didn't i, poppy?"

"Yes, Jake, you did," Jim admitted as he touched a soapy finger to the tip of Jake's nose.

Rubbing it and giggling again, Jake looked pointedly at the covered cake platter. "poppy, what's in there?"

"In where?" Jim said without looking at what he knew Jake was referring to.

"in there," Jake said as he pointed to the platter.

"Air," Blair offered as he put a dried dish away.


"Air," Jim confirmed.

"with chocolate icing?" Jake asked with an innocent grin.

"I don't know. Sandburg, does the air under that cover have chocolate icing?"

"Oh, I doubt that, Jim. One doesn't usually frost air, unless it's winter and very cold outside."

Looking all the world like a complete innocent, Jake said, "maybe i should ...look?"

"Oh, I don't think that's necessary, Jake," Jim said as he unplugged the sink and let the soapy water drain.

"but-but-but... maybe there is air with chocolate icing and it's just waiting for me to open it and try some, poppy."

"Mmmm, well, as soon as daddy is done, why don't we carry it over to the table and see?"

"i could look... now, poppy."

"I'm sure you could, but let's all look together. If there is air under there and it's covered with icing, I'm sure we'd all like to see it."

He dried his hands, lifted Jake up and set him on his feet on the ground. "Why don't you tell your nomi to join us, okay?"

"'kay!" He started off, but stopped and turned back around. "poppy, does frosted air taste good?"

"We may be about to find out, Jake."

Both Jim and Blair watched as Jake trotted out to the living room to get his nomi, and as soon as he was out of ear shot, Jim said, "Where did she put the bike and jacket?"

"It's upstairs."

"So how we gonna do this?"

"Well, while he's sitting at the dining room table with chocolate frosting all over his face, you're going to wheel it down here."

"I am?"

"You am."

Jake had Naomi by the hand and was dragging her, apparently unwillingly, back to the dining room table. "but you have to come, my nomi. we're going to taste frosted air!"

"Oh, well, then, by all means, Jake," she said with laughter bubbling up in her voice.

Blair carried the cake platter to the table and said, "Jim, you might want to get those small plates - just in case this frosted air is good."

Jake got up into his chair and immediately on his knees. "an' don't forget the milk, just in case, poppy!"

Plates, cups, more forks and milk were set down. The domed platter was set in front of Jake, much like his dinner had been earlier. Jim stepped unobtrusively back into the kitchen and got to work with the real cake.

With a glance at Jim, who nodded, Blair said, "Okay, Jake, you want to take the cover off and we'll check out this so-called 'frosted air'?"

"oh goody." Jake wrapped his fingers around the lid handle and ... lifted it.

The platter was empty.

Blair shrugged and said, "Guess the air wasn't frosted after all."

At that moment, the light over the table went off, as did the one in the kitchen.


"Oh, Ja-ake," Jim sing-songed.

Jake whipped around to find his father walking toward him, a plate in his hands. On the plate sat a tall chocolate cake alight with candles that brightened his father's huge smile. As he watched, thunderstruck, everyone started singing.

"Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday, dear Jake, happy birthday to you!"

The fake platter was quickly moved out of the way and the cake set down in front of him.

"Okay, Jake," Blair said. "You need to make a wish and blow out the candles. If you get all of them out, your wish will come true."

"it will?"

"Yep," Blair affirmed. "Now go ahead and give it your best shot."

Jake leaned forward, eyes shining bright as he took in the five candles flickering merrily and his name written on top of the cake. He grinned, put a hand on each side of the platter, inhaled, held it, and finally... blew it out ... hard.

The candles flickered... and died.

Jim, Blair and Naomi began to clap even as Jake did the same. "i did it, daddy, i did it!"

"You sure did. Now let's cut this thing and dig in, okay?"


Jake sat back and patted his tummy. "i be stuffted," he proclaimed, completely satisfied.

"Not bad for frosted air, eh?" Blair asked as put his own fork down and then ran a finger over the edge of his plate to scoop up the last of the frosting.


"The good news is that we have enough leftover that you get to repeat this tomorrow," Naomi said as she got up and started to clear the table.

"i do?"

"You do. Well, all but the candles of course," she said as she walked into the kitchen.

He looked puzzled and finally asked, "how come i get to cely... cely-brate... my birthday twice?"

Jim snagged Jake's napkin and used it to wipe some frosting off his son's chin as he said, "Well, birthdays often fall during the week and you can't have a party with all your friends then, remember? So we're having your official birthday party tomorrow. But tonight - tonight it's just us."

"but my gampy and unca stevie will be there tomorrow, right?"

"Yep, and Simon, and Daryl, and all your classmates and Corky and Cherry and even Mrs. Wheaton," Blair said after he downed the last of his coffee.

Jake held up his left hand. Tweaking his index finger, he said, "so birthday brekkie at home and my pressie," he tweaked the next finger, "cupcakes and punchy at school and i got spanked five times, but it didn't hurt and everyone sang happy birthday to me," another finger went down, "and my special birthday dinner tonight with a cake and real candles and my cake said happy birthday jake," and finally his pinky, "and tomorrow, i get a real party wif all my friends and we get to play games and you said i could have more cake and this time wif ice creamy and you said my friends would bring me even more pressies, right?"

Blair nodded and waited for the inevitable shoe to drop. None of them had to wait long.

"so... can i have another birthday next week?" he asked innocently.

Jake sat in his nomi's lap as she read to him. The fire blazed in the fire place and Blair sat in the chair watching his son. So far, even though Jake knew the only presents he'd be receiving the next day would be those from friends and his grandfather and uncle, he hadn't even mentioned the lack of a bike or a horse. Blair looked at his watch. Almost time to leave, which meant time for one more surprise for their son.

He got up, and Jim, seeing his movement, nodded and rose. "Time to go home, Jake. Party day will come awfully early tomorrow," he said as Jim started up the stairs.

"do we have to go now, daddy? we could stay here tonight, we could."

"Who'd say goodnight to the koi?"

"oh. okay, if we have to, we have to."

"We have to. Now, why don't you go get your jacket and backpack and then kiss your nomi good-night, okay?"

Jake jumped off his grandmother's lap and walked over to the "Jake height" hook that held his jacket. He put it on and ran back to his nomi, who scooped him up. He flung his arms around her and gave her a huge kiss, followed by an eskimo kiss and finally a butterfly kiss. "i love you, my nomi!"

"I love you right back, Jake. Happy birthday, and I'll see you tomorrow for your party, okay?"


"Cross my heart."

"Wow," Jim said from above. "Look what I found."

All eyes turned expectantly toward the stairs but only one set widened in shock.

Jim stood at the top of the stairs, his hands on a bright, shiny red, pintsized bicycle. Hanging from the handlebars was an equally shiny, official red and yellow satin Cascade Kits Baseball Team jacket.

Naomi set Jake down, but he didn't move. His eyes took in every line, every detail of the bike and jacket even as Blair went down on one knee next to him and whispered, "The jacket is from your nomi, Jake." Blair slowly slid Jake's blue jacket off his unresisting son and then gave him a small, gentle push. "Go on, check it out."

Jim started down the stairs, bike now raised up. When he hit the bottom, he put the bike down on its kickstand and waited.

Jake tore his gaze away and looked up at his nomi. "my jacket, my nomi?"

"Yours, Jake. And it's just your size," she said with a soft smile.

"but it's... shiny," he said in awe.

"Yes, it is, because unlike the ones most folks have, this one is the official jacket of the team members," she answered proudly. Then she leaned down and whispered, "Don't forget to check the pockets, okay?"

That was all Jake needed. He took off on a run. Jim plucked the jacket off the handlebars and held it out. Jake skidded to a stop, turned around and allowed his father to slip his jacket on him. It was a perfect fit. Jake immediately dug into the right pocket and pulled out a white envelope. He tore into it and found a birthday card with a grey wolf seated next to a jaguar. Jake looked up at Naomi and said, "the lonely jaggywar and the faithful wolfie! how did you know, my nomi?"

"Let's just say... I knew."

He opened the card and his eyes nearly popped out. Inside, along with the birthday greeting, was a clean, crisp, fifty dollar bill.

Jim, seeing the money, said, "Wow, Hoss, that's a lot of green stuff. We may need to open a bank account for you."

Staring down at the money, Jake said, "how much is it, poppy?"

"Well, let me put it this way; it's your Christmas money for the next few years."

"wow," Jake breathed out.

"Check the other pocket, honey," Naomi urged.

Blair was standing next to her and at her words, he frowned and whispered, "Mom, what else did you--"

But Jake was already pulling out the next present. He held them up and started jumping up and down, having immediately recognized the three items as tickets to a Kits game.

"lookeeeee, lookeeeee, tickets, daddy, poppy! i get to go again!"

"Mom, you--"

"Yes, I should have," Naomi said with a gentle smile directed at her son.

By now, Jake was holding his bike and running his hands over every inch of it. Jim got down on one knee and said, "What say we get this home and you can get on it in the courtyard before we go inside and go to bed?"

Without looking away from the already beloved bike, Jake said, "oh, please, yes."

The bike was in the back of the truck and Jake, having kissed his nomi good-bye no less than three times, was in his car seat. Next to him, all packaged up, sat their leftovers, including the cake. Blair gave his mother a hug and another kiss and said, "Thanks, mom. This was a great idea doing the family party here tonight."

She wiped some lipstick from his cheek as she said, "It was, wasn't it? And don't worry about tomorrow. Keeba and I have everything under control. We'll be there early and by the time you and Jim arrive with Jake, it'll look great."

"You don't think we're going a bit overboard, do you, Mom?"

Looking askance, Naomi said, "Overboard? You? Why, honey, of course not. We're only talking a ride or two... or three. Elephants, face painters, popcorn machine, cotton candy machine--"

"Okay, okay, we're going overboard."

"... the pony...."

"Hey, that's Mister Ellison's fault, Mom."

Naomi patted her son's cheek. "Of course it is, dear. Of course it is."

Blair bit his lower lip. "Damn, maybe it's not too late to cancel the tilt-a-whirl and the elephant...."

"Blair, honey, everyone's excited about this party, and all the parents are coming, not to mention Mrs. Wheaton. It's as much of a school party as it is Jake's birthday, and let's face it, you and Jim are rather unique parents. This will really get you off to a good start, so stop obsessing."

"Hell, I am obsessing. Me, Blair Sandburg. I'm actually obsessing," he finished in wonder. "I haven't obsessed about anything for years."

Naomi laughed even as she gave her son a gentle push toward the car. "Go. Everything will be wonderful tomorrow and you and Jim will have given Jake something he'll never forget."

Blair opened the door and got in. As he fastened the seatbelt, he said, "I can't get over this, I'm obsessing. Maybe I should call Doctor Franks."

"Very funny, Blair. Very funny." Naomi ducked down to peer at her son-in-law. "Jim, get him out of here, okay? And Blair, honey, Doctor Franks retired years ago."

Jake bounced back and forth on his feet as he watched his father take his new bike out of the truck. As soon as the wheels hit the concrete, he took over, insisting that he could walk it into the courtyard. With a hand on each side, he began the laborious process of avoiding the spinning pedals. Jim and Blair walked a couple of feet behind him - watching - and smiling.

"He looks so damn cute," Blair whispered.

"He's being so damn careful... will you look at him? He still has that walk, you know?"

"I know. I never get enough of watching that 'just the other side of toddler' walk."

They followed him from the carport, through the gate, which Jim buzzed open, and finally into the center of the courtyard. Jake turned his head until he could see his fathers. "one ride?" he asked, the hope nearly a living thing.

"It's late, Jake. Almost nine. Maybe we'd better--"

"i be very careful. just one ride ...to the door, daddy?"

"Mmm, well, you have to go to the door anyway... right, Jim?"

"I'm thinking... right."

Blair walked over and took the bike in order to hold it steady while Jim lifted Jake and put him on the seat.

"Okay, feet on the pedals... that's right, now push...."

Jake started to pedal, hands gripping the handlebars tightly even though his father was actually holding the bike. He turned his head to see his poppy and asked, "how fast should i pedal, poppy?"

"You're doing fine, Hoss. How's it feel?"

He giggled. "it feels goooooood!"

They reached the stoop and Jim stopped the forward movement and held the bike steady while Blair coached Jake on the fine art of climbing off a bike. A moment later, face happily flushed, Jake was pushing the beloved bike into the house.

It was a foregone conclusion that Jake would insist on having his new transportation in his bedroom with him. The only surprise was that after his bath, he didn't ask to be allowed to sleep with it. He seemed content to sleep with Jakey ... and his new Kits jacket.

Yawning, he pulled the covers to his chin and smiled sleepily up at his parents. "i like birthdays, daddy and poppy. we should have one every day."

Fingers combing back the still-damp curls, Blair said, "But then think how old you'd be now, Jake. We'd have to send you off to college and by next week, you'd have to find a job, and by Halloween, you'd have two children of your own."

Giggling, Jake captured Blair's hand and held on for a moment before letting go. "what time do we go to unca simon's tomorrow for my party, daddy?"

"Oh, we'll head over around one. You want to be there before your friends so you can welcome them, right?"


Jim bent down and kissed Jake's cheek as he said, "Sleep tight, Hoss."

Blair did the same and added his own good-night as Jake yawned again and finally, in a low, sleepy voice, said, "nighty-night, daddy and poppy. and thank you for my bestest day ever."

Jim slipped his arm around Blair's waist and said, "You're very welcome, Hoss. Love you. Now kiss Jakey good night and we'll see you in the morning."

Jake did as told, rolled over on his side, still gripping both Jakey and his jacket, and closed his eyes. It had been a long day and it only took a few moments for him to drift off. When Blair was certain Jake was sound asleep, he gently removed the jacket and hung it up before joining Jim in the hall.

They walked out into the living room and, in silent agreement, kept going until they were in the kitchen. Jim put on the water for tea and sat down with Blair at the table. He took his hand in his own and said, "It was a very good day, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, it was. And you'll be happy to know that mom doesn't think we're - you're - going overboard tomorrow."

"She doesn't?"

"Nope. She thinks since Jake's class is benefiting, and with all the parents involved, it's more like a huge block party. Therefore - not overboard. Personally, I can't wait to see what you want to do when he turns six."

"I'm buying him a circus, silly."

Blair looked up from his examination of their entwined fingers and grinned. "I figured as much. A country when he turns sixteen?"

"Nah, I was saving that for his bar mitzvah."

Blair looked up at that and said, "Now, Jim, you know damn well that being Jewish comes from the mother. And I am not the little woman in this relationship, you are. Okay, you're the tall, chicken-legged woman, but still."

"What's with you and my legs? You love my legs, Sandburg."

"I love chicken legs too, or haven't you noticed? And you called me Sandburg again, but I'm not quite ready for some really good sex. I think we need to talk."

"Aw, Sandburg," Jim whined. His expression brightened as he said, "How 'bout some really bad sex?"

"Jim," he rubbed Jim's fingers with his own, "are we trying to ... I don't know, overcompensate... or something?"

"You're serious, aren't you?"

"Come on, Jim. We're throwing a freaking carnival for our son's fifth birthday. In case you failed to notice, we're not celebrities, we're not rich, we're not... weird."

"We are weird and we don't have to be rich or celebrities to have a great birthday party for our son, and yes, we're probably trying to... maybe ... but I think overcompensate is the wrong word. We're trying to... we almost lost him last month, came so damn close to losing him, and then this whole thing with Henderson, and then we had to go to court again for Jake - and the adoption still isn't settled - and there we were, two gay men and even though--"

Blair placed two fingers over Jim's lips. "It's okay. We're just... really grateful to have him and we're maybe, just maybe, spoiling him a wee bit. Because we almost lost him last month, but we didn't and he's ours now because the court appearance next month is strictly a formality so maybe we're even trying to celebrate... a bit. And he's a good kid and this won't hurt him ... much, but God knows what we're going to do next year to top this, but hey, we're both imaginative so I'm hopeful."

"Works for me, Sandburg," Jim said with a grin.

"Man, you so want my body."

"Works for me, Sandburg."

Saturday, September 30 - Big Day #2
Keeba double-checked the coolers and nodded in satisfaction. Everything was still cold and ready for the barbecue. The two big tubs of ice cream were doing well as were the gallon jugs of punch and lemonade. They had plenty of ice for the entire day... yep, they were ready. She smiled over at Naomi, who grinned back. Terry walked over and wiped the sweat from his brow.

"Man, those guys really work fast. They tired me out just watching 'em."

Keeba kissed her husband's cheek. "I'm sure that watching them putting both rides together was tiring, dear."

"Hey, who did all this?" he said as he waved an arm around the area.

"Simon, Rafe, Henri...."

Naomi grinned as she let her words trail off.

"I helped," Terry whined. "I worked very hard on those blow-up plastic balloons."

"Yes, you did. No one could have done any better than you, honey. Firemen are well known for their ... hot air."

Terry rolled his eyes and said, "I walked into that one, didn't I?"

"Yep," Keeba agreed.

"mommy, when is jakey supposed to be here?"

Keeba glanced down at her daughter and said, "Any minute, sweetie."

Cherry immediately ran back over to the far table where Corky sat patiently waiting his friend's arrival.

"corky, corky, he's on his way!" Cherry yelled gleefully.

Corky jumped up and ran to meet her half-way. They danced around each other while chanting Jake's name.

Naomi watched and shook her head in amazement. "I can't get over the friendship between Cherry, Jake and Corky. They really are unbelievable."

Keeba, also watching the two children, said, "I know. It's very rare. The bond the three of them have, for children their age? It breaks all the rules."

Naomi watched the two more thoughtfully... and finally said, "I think it's a friendship that will endure, Keeba. We're lucky to be able to witness it."

"I believe you're right," Keeba said.

"Hey, look who's finally back," Terry said, indicating that they should look behind them.

Simon, followed by Megan, pulled onto the dirt and both parked. All the doors opened on both vehicles and a good chunk of Major Crime spilled out. Most of them had bags in their arms and all quickly joined Naomi, Terry, and Keeba. Simon walked immediately over to Naomi and kissed her cheek as he said, "We come back bearing gifts, the cake, and the rest of the goodies."

"And not a minute too soon," Naomi said. "Jim and Blair should be here any minute and Jake's friends should start arriving in the next twenty minutes or so."

"Hey, where's the elephant?" Rafe asked, puzzled.

"It'll be arriving at two," Naomi answered.

"Okay, what about the pony?"

"Rafe, I swear, you and animals." Henri made a playful jab at his friend.

"Hey, I want to see Jake's face, not to mention his classmates, when the pony arrives," Rafe said, ducking the fist.

"And you want a ride on the elephant," Megan said, laughter bubbling up.

"Well, yeah," he admitted sheepishly.

"Megan, isn't John coming?" Joel asked.

"He'll be here but later in the day. He had to see his brother about some construction work they need to do on the Anjasmayo."

"Blair never mentioned anything," Simon said as he and Naomi arranged the platters of fruit and vegetables.

"It's for one of the tenants. They're doing some kind of spa thing in the bathroom and the project has taken on gigantic proportions."

"Ah. Well, as long as he doesn't miss the cake, eh?" Simon grinned at Connor.

"Jake, you're kicking poppy's seat."

The kicking stopped. Jim turned off Seventh Street, drove another five minutes... and the kicking started again.

"Jake, you're kicking poppy's seat again."

The kicking stopped. Jim drove up Manchester for a mile before turning right onto Emerson. The kicking started again.

Blair turned around in his seat. "Jake, I know you're excited, but you have to stop the jiggling."


The kicking stopped.

Jim drove past the mall and made a left onto Chestnut. The kicking started again. Blair was about to say something when Jim squeezed his thigh. "Just a few more minutes and we'll be there. You can't contain him, Chief."

"Good point."

The nervous jiggling that was resulting in the kicking continued unabated until Jim turned left on Elm instead of right.

"poppy? unca simon lives that way."

Jim glanced at Blair and said, "How many five year olds could tell their father that?"

"Not many," Blair agreed with a chuckle.


"Hoss, we're actually going to the empty field behind Uncle Simon's house. In fact, take a look."

Jake immediately looked out his window and gasped.

Jim pulled onto the dirt and parked next to Naomi's Mini-Cooper. Blair got out and walked around to the driver's side and opened the passenger door. He grinned as he reached in to free Jake, who was now trying desperately to see around his father. Blair lifted him out, even though Jake was perfectly capable of unhooking himself and jumping down.

Once on the ground, he moved forward to get a better view ... and froze in place. Blair looked over him at Jim, who smiled back before getting a good look at the field himself.

"They did a great job, Chief," he murmured.

"Yeah, they did."

In the grassiest area of the field, under the three elms, several tables had been erected. All of them had gaily colored table cloths spread over their surfaces along with balloons festooning each corner while huge plastic balloon decorations hung from the various branches of the trees. A barbecue stood several feet away, and beyond that, a red and gold popcorn wagon sat next to a round table that held a large silver cotton candy maker. To the left of the trees, a small electric merry-go-round sat next to the red, white and blue tilt-a-whirl.

Jake took another small step forward, almost on tip-toe, as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"daddy? poppy?"

They each put a hand on one of Jake's shoulders and said, "Yes?"

Suddenly Jake turned around to face his father. Eyes huge, he lifted his arms. Blair picked him up and rested his cheek against Jake's. "Happy birthday, Hoss."

Together, the two men, Jake still in Blair's arms, headed for the party site.

"Heads up, gang, our birthday boy just arrived," Terry said.

Everyone immediately looked toward the row of cars in time to see Jake being set on the ground by Blair. They smiled as they watched the small figure take a few steps before stopping to take in the view before him. Then they watched in amazement as he turned and raised his arms.

"My poor baby," Naomi murmured. "He's overwhelmed by it all."

"Blair looks all right to me," Simon said with a teasing grin.

"Very funny, Simon," Naomi said as she poked him in the ribs.

Jake was still clinging to Blair, unwilling to let go even when Corky and Cherry ran up to them. The gang, realizing they needed to take it slow, simply said their hellos and went about their business. Naomi kissed Jake while Simon ran his fingers through Jake's curls and wished him a happy birthday. Jake grinned a small grin and ducked his head under Blair's chin. Jim stepped in front of Blair and put his hand on the back of Jake's neck.

"Wouldn't you like to join Cherry and Corky and look around, Hoss?"

"come on, jakey, come and look at the tilt-a-whirl!" Cherry commanded imperiously.

Jake lifted his head, looked down, looked around, and finally at his poppy. "for me?" he asked incredulously.

Jim smiled tenderly as Blair smoothed the back of his hand down Jake's cheek. "Yeah, Hoss, for you," Jim whispered. "Happy birthday."

Blair touched his lips to Jake's ear, causing him to giggle softly. "You'll never be five again. This is a big one, Jake," Blair whispered. "Time to join your friends and go exploring."



"i could do that - i could."

Blair lowered him to the ground and Corky and Cherry immediately jumped all over him. A moment later, all three had scampered off to "check-out" the rides.

"Okay, that was a moment," Jim said as he exhaled a relieved breath.

"If it had been a surprise party, he couldn't have been any more surprised," Blair said. "Or overwhelmed. But he's nothing if not adaptable," he finished with proud grin.

The party was in full swing with all Jake's classmates having arrived within minutes of each other. The parents were enjoying the beer while mingling and getting to know one another. The burgers, dogs and fish were grilling and the children were having a ball with the rides, the face painter, the games, and the elephant -- which had arrived at two. Steven showed up at two-thirty and, after the appropriate hugs and kisses from his nephew, assured Jake that "gampa" would arrive, albeit a bit later.

At two forty-five, Blair broke out the party hats and every one came running, that being the signal that the food was ready. Adults and children scrambled for seats but not before getting a hat from Blair. Coned birthday-toppers on their heads, Jim, Terry and Simon began serving. There was enough for everyone to have one of everything and the children seemed to actually have more fun with the fish tacos than the hot dogs or burgers, although those went fast too. Chips, dips and various salads rounded out the meal.

Just as the last of the food disappeared, a truck pulling a horse trailer drove onto the field.

"Hey, Jake, looks like grandpa is here," Blair observed as he nodded in the direction of the vehicle.

Jake was up in a flash and running toward the now stopped truck. William Ellison got out of the passenger side and immediately went down on one knee and held open his arms. Jake flew into them yelling, "gampa, you came!'

Standing, William kissed his grandson and said, "Of course I did. Didn't Steven tell you I'd be late?"

"yeppers! but gampa, my birthday lunch is over."

"Well, surely you saved some for me?" William asked, trying to look worried but failing in the face of the happy youngster in his arms.

"poppy did, ab-so-luuuuut-leeeee."

"Good, because I'm starved, Jake."

A sudden sound from the trailer caught Jake's attention and he peeked around his grandfather's head to peer at it in curiosity. William, seeing the interest, said with a grin, "That's why I'm late, Jake."

By this time, Jim and Blair had reached them, along with most of the children, parents and Major Crime gang. Simon stood next to Blair, Naomi next to him. Steven walked around to the back of the trailer with the driver and began to unhook the door.

"See," William continued, "a little bird told me that a certain birthday boy wanted something special for his birthday."

Blinking rapidly, Jake said in wonder, "i'm a birthday boy, gampa, but my real birthday was yesterday, but we're having my party today 'cuz it's the weekend and my daddy says it's easier."

"Did you ask for something special, Jake?" William asked, his eyes dancing with humor.

Jake put a finger to his lips and closed his eyes in thought. Finally he opened his eyes and looked at the trailer again, this time, in disbelief. "i... i... asked... for...."

He couldn't go any further, instead choosing to wrap his arms around William's neck in as close to a stranglehold that a five year old could manage. William glanced over at his son, silently asking what the heck was going on. Jim shrugged and smiled as if to say, "You're on your own, Pops." Blair, on the other hand, took pity on the man and said, "Why don't I take the Jake-shaped leech off your hands, William, while you show everyone what you brought?"

Jake didn't even blink. He simply let go and drifted into his father's arms. William, now free to move a bit easier, said, as he led everyone to the back of the trailer, "When I heard that Wellington Elementary School had a horse that the kindergartners and first graders could take care of, and then heard that Mount Rainier no longer had one, well, I thought something ought to be done about that. So, in honor of Jake's birthday, and in Jake's name, the Ellison-Sandburg-Porter family would like to donate...."

The driver of the horse trailer pulled open the door and Steven reached in, took the lead rope and slowly led a small, chestnut pony out of the trailer.

"...JayBee. the official Mount Rainier School's pony," William finished with a huge grin.

Pandemonium reigned.

The children had petted, kissed, cooed, and oohed over JayBee, their official mascot. The pony, an extremely gentle soul, reacted in kind by nuzzling the children and occasionally butting them gently in order to encourage a hand-out of carrots - supplied by the horse trainer - and more petting.

Jake was stunned, awed, and completely overwhelmed. At his expression, Blair realized that when he'd asked for a pony, he'd never in a million years actually expected one. While the other children and Mrs. Wheaton continued to play with JayBee, Blair took Jake aside. He sat down under a tree and pulled Jake onto his lap. Arms wrapped securely around the still-shocked child, he said, "You understand what's happening, Jake? With JayBee?"

Jake, eyes still on the horse, nodded. "he be mine, but he be my school's too, daddy."

"Exactly. He'll stay at the school's stable and your class will spend a certain amount of hours with him every week. You'll learn how to groom him, feed and exercise him. You'll all learn how to saddle him and then, eventually, to ride him. In two years, when you're older, and JayBee is older, we'll move him to your grandfather's stables and if you're still interested in horseback riding, you'll learn even more about riding. Just like your poppy."

That got Jake's attention. His head whipped around and he stared at his father. "my poppy?"

"Yep. He learned to ride a horse, to really ride a horse, when he was seven. He loved, and still loves, horseback riding, but doesn't get as many opportunities to ride nowadays. But with JayBee, maybe we'll all get involved now."

Jake looked back at "his" horse. He frowned and said, "i guess... jaybee can't sleep with me and jakey, can he?"

Blair laughed and said, "No, afraid not, Hoss."

Jim watched Blair talk with Jake, listened to their voices, and smiled softly. Leave it to Blair to explain in a way that Jake could understand.

"You all right, Jimmy?"

He turned from his family to look at his father. "I'm fine. Blair is explaining everything to Jake. Seems his only regret is that JayBee can't sleep with him."

William's gaze softened. "You said the same thing about Toledo."

"I did?"

"You did. You were very upset that he couldn't come home with you."

They smiled at each other. William broke the moment by saying, "This was okay, wasn't it?"

"It was very okay, Pops. A couple of years ago, you'd have never thought of donating the pony to the entire school. You did good."

If William could have puffed up, he would have. And just as quickly, he would have deflated. "You don't think Jake is disappointed that the pony doesn't just belong to him?"

"I can promise you that he most certainly isn't. He's so happy, Dad, it's almost too much for him."

"Almost," William said with a conspiratorial grin.

"Almost," Jim agreed with his own smile. "By the way, why JayBee?"

"J & B, Jimmy. Jim and Blair."

Jim's mouth dropped open.

The rides were gone, as was the elephant. The Cascade PD truck had come and gone, with the popcorn and cotton candy machine safely tucked away in preparation for the city's Halloween carnival, CPD Festival in November and Founders Day next summer. All the presents had been opened and Jake's stash of clothes, toys, puzzles, coloring books and reading books were packed away in the truck. The pony-themed birthday cake was a distant memory, as was the chocolate-mint ice cream. Any other food that had been leftover had gone home with the children and their parents - except for the beer, which was currently being enjoyed by the official clean-up crew made up of Jim, Blair, John Holden, Simon, William, Steven and Terry. Naomi, Megan and Keeba were relaxing under one of the last tables still up, and enjoying the last of the strawberry-flavored lemonade. The pony, alas, had already been packed up and delivered to the Mount Rainier stable, but not before a final kiss had been bestowed upon it by Jake. Jaybee had then shown a real affinity for Jake's curls, causing him to break out into a delightful fit of giggles.

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that come Monday, JayBee would have more love than any horse alive.

Cherry, Jake and Corky were now lying in the soft grass and making "pony" plans while trying to outdo each other in describing the clouds overhead. All three were pleasantly exhausted.

Jim glanced over at them and smiled. "I thought those three were deliriously happy at the Fourth of July picnic, but I think they're even happier today."

Blair lifted his bottle to Jim's and let them gently clink. "I'll second that. We all done good today, guys."

"Amen," Simon said. "I'm glad Jake wasn't too disappointed that Daryl couldn't make it, but the debate was rescheduled and there was nothing he could do about it. Such is the life of a college debater."

"I don't honestly think he had time to miss Daryl once things really got going. And the stack of reading books Daryl sent him stalled the whole birthday present assembly line for ten minutes," Blair said. "I swear, getting him to stop and move on to the next present was almost as big a chore as getting this place cleaned up."

"It was the same way last Christmas. Each present is treated as if it's the only one. He's always so danged surprised when another is handed over," Simon commented with a fond look over at Jake. "When Daryl was that age, he'd open it, oooh and aah, then toss it over his shoulder and move on to the next."

"Same with Steven. Jimmy, on the other hand, took ten minutes just to open a gift. Then he'd do the same thing as Jake."

"Daaaaad," Jim and Steven said together.

Laughing, William said, "Hey, it's true."

"And after Jim opened each gift, he'd fold the wrapping paper into neat squares and pile them one on top of the other," Blair said with a straight face.

"How'd you know, Blair?" William asked.

"Simple. He still does it. It's so ingrained now that it's habit. Didn't you notice he was taking Jake's paper - OUCH!" Blair rubbed his arm where Jim had pinched him.

"Naomi, what was Blair like with his presents?" Jim asked.

"Blair? He was kind of... in between. If it was clothing, he'd toss it. But if it was a toy, he had to open it, figure it out, put it together, and play with it right away. And if it was a book? Everything ground to a complete halt while he made me read to him, at least until he learned to read himself."

"Ah, so nothing's changed," Jim said sagely. "Clothes still get tossed and toys still have to be played with immediately."

With a rather pointed look of his own, Blair said, "Yeah, but Jim, the toys have changed - a lot - and you tend to want to ... help me... play with them."

Jim blushed a healthy red as Simon held up a hand and said, "TMI, guys. TMI."

Steven pounded his brother on the back and said, "You deserved that one, bro."

John, laughing, tossed his empty beer bottle into the last trash bag and said, "Okay, on that note, I'm going to collect Megan and we're going to head out. I suddenly have the hankering to play." He winked, shook hands with everyone, hugged Jim and Blair and walked over to the table. Megan got up, said her good-byes, and both walked over to the children to say their last good-byes. Jake jumped up and hugged his "meggy" and like a grown-up, shook John's hand before laughing uproariously and throwing himself at the man.

"You know, I think heading home is a good idea. Daryl's going to call later and hopefully will be sending me the debate. It'll be squinty vision on my computer, but until he gets back on Monday and I can see the video, it'll do."

With that, everyone agreed it was time to call it a day. The last table was packed up in the back of Simon's car, the last of the trash was dumped and Jake kissed and thanked everyone. Cherry gave him a hug and waved at Corky, who would be going with Jim, Blair and Jake and dropped off at home. Naomi hugged Jake hard, kissed him again, and then got into her car to follow Simon, who'd invited her for dinner and to view the debate.

Keeba, Terry and Cherry said their good-byes after making plans to meet mid-week for a thank you dinner at the Anjasmayo. William and Steven, who, after soliciting a promise that they'd be joined the next morning for brunch, were the last to leave. With a sigh of contentment, Jim climbed into the truck.

"Okay, guys, are we ready to go home?"

"we be ready, poppy!"

"we be very ready, mister jim!"

Jim waited.

Rolling his eyes, Blair said, "We're ready, Jimbo."

Jim backed up and headed home.

Inside their home, a fire blazed brightly while outside, the fall weather that had held its self in abeyance for Jake's birthday party, now took over. It was raining.

The rest of the chops and macaroni and cheese had been devoured at seven, along with more of Jake's chocolate cake. All of Jake's presents had been put in to his room, with the toys on his play table, the books in the book shelves, except for the one Blair would read to him before going to bed. Showers and baths had been taken, the house tidied up and now two very tired men lay on the couch, their legs entangled. Jim was catching up on the day's events with the Saturday paper while Blair read the latest Clive Cussler, his glasses perched on the end of his nose. The sound of the rain, combined with the crackling fire, lulled both men into a state of delicious contentment.

After finishing one particularly thrilling chapter, Blair asked, without looking up, "What's he doing?"

Eyes scanning the editorial page, Jim said, "He's describing every single present to Jakey. In excruciatingly perfect detail."

Blair put the book down. "Oh, man, I have got to see this." He slid his legs out from under Jim's and got up. He waited, eyebrows arched.

"Right." Jim folded the paper and got to his feet.

Together, they walked into the hall, stopping just outside Jake's room. Much like they'd done at the loft, Blair stood in front of Jim as both men peered inside.

Jake sat on the floor in the middle of the room, his new toys surrounding him. In his hand he held Jakey.

"...and this is my new speedy car and it's 'lectric and corky gave it to me, and over here is my new sponge bob pillow and cherry gave that to me with these super duper sponge bobby coloring pens, and this is a book on jaggywars and this is a book on saving the wolves...."

Slowly Jim's arm snuck around Blair's and Blair leaned into the warmth behind him and they watched Jake share his birthday haul with Jakey the wolfpup. Jim lowered his head until his lips were barely touching Blair's ear. "You realize that tomorrow - it's teaching him to ride a bike, right?" he whispered.

"Oh, lord."

The End - for now.