We Gather Together - Thanksgiving

by Alyjude

Others own but I now operate, love, cherish and feed

Thanks as always, and much love to, Melvin, for whom Jake was created. Love you, welp.

As mentioned, this first appeared in the AWP ::aly waves at Bast:: zine, We Gather Together, a Jake holiday zine. I've made changes, and I hope, have
improved it since I first wrote it over two years ago. There are slight differences from the zine. The second
half of the zine dealing with Christmas and Chanukah will appear in December. For the timeline, this story begins approximately three weeks after Everything's Jake.


As We Gather Together-Thanksgiving

By Alyjude

"This isn't going to work."

"Shove it over, Ellison."

"Chief, what part of 'this isn't going to work' didn't you get?"

"That would be the 'this isn't going to work' part." Jim slowly lowered his end of the large dresser and as the round knobs that constituted its feet touched down, he straightened. Vision momentarily blurred by stinging sweat trickling into his eyes, Jim gave up the idea of paralyzing Blair with one of his killer laser looks, opting instead to lift the hem of his undershirt and swipe the material over his sweaty face. Once he could see again, he said dryly, "Let me explain this in layman's terms, Sandburg. This big honking dresser isn't going to fit through this needle's eye."

"why don't you move the bed?"

Two hot, sweaty, overworked men turned in the direction of the small-disembodied voice. Craning their necks, they spotted the source of the voice.

Jake.

Their son, wearing only the upper half of his Star Wars pajamas, sat on the floor in front of the door. With his bare legs splayed out in front of him, he was busy working the hook and ladder of a red toy fire engine.

Blair glanced away from their son and turned his attention to his partner. "Um, we could do that, I suppose."

Jake snorted as he placed the vehicle back on the hardwood floor and moved it cautiously forward. The ladder fell off and stricken, he froze. After a moment, he carefully held it up. "broke, daddy. it's broke."

Sandburg glanced at Jake's sorrowful face, then up to Jim who was currently trapped behind the dresser. If Blair let his end down, well, actually - he couldn't. No place to rest it other than on his unhappy son. "Uh, Jim? Can you squeeze by your end, shove the bed towards me, then--"

"Yeah, I'm on it, hang on."

Jim started the squeeze play and grimaced as the corner of the dresser came into alignment with his more sensitive body parts.

"Ooh, be careful, valuable merchandise there, Detective Ellison."

"daddy? my ladder, it's broke."

"You think I'm not being careful, Sandburg? And don't move an inch!"

"I know, welp, I know. Just hold your horses, hands kind of full here." Then, "Jim, suck it in, NOW!"

"I'm sucking, I'm sucking!"

"but daddy, it's broke now."

That was the last straw. Blair lost it. His laughter filled the bedroom and the dresser teetered precariously. Jim had managed to squeeze the family jewels past the killer dresser and was currently scowling at his partner while at the same time, Jake held up the ladder again and whined, "dad-dee, you *have*ta fix it now."

Choking back further laughter, Blair responded with what he hoped was his best reasoning tone. "Jake, in order to fix your ladder, I'd have to set the dresser down, and in order to do that, I'd have to set it on you. The problem with that is that we're not partial to squished Jake, so hang in there, let Jim move the bed and soon, all will be right with your world. Okey dokey?" Jim smiled at Blair's lengthy attempt to soothe their four year old, then gaped when Jake went back to the fire engine, nodding happily. Jim put his shoulder to the bed and shoved while at the same time marveling at Blair's ability with Jake. His own father would simply have told Jake not to bother him and to "go to his room". Jim straightened and walked back to the dresser, picked up his end and sure enough, with Blair angling to the right, they managed to get the thing almost into position. They then began the dance of furniture movers all over the world as they positioned, shifted, shook their heads and tried again.

"daddy? someone's--" "Just twoooo-more minutes, Jake," Blair promised.

Jake nodded, then looked over his shoulder. Someone was at the door. He glanced back at Blair's straining back and Jim's scrunched up face - then scrambled up and ran out into the living room to answer the door for his daddy.

(O)

Naomi was about to ring the bell when she heard what had to a stampede of wild horses coming towards her. She frowned and took a cautious step back. At the same moment, the door swung open to reveal -- nothing.

Naomi blinked twice.

"hi. who are you?"

She followed the voice down and her eyes widened at the small tousled-haired boy gazing up at her. "I'm Naomi. Who are you?"

Bright blue eyes widened as the child's mouth formed a huge O and the door was slammed in her face. She heard the same stampeding horses move away.

(O)

Jake ran to the doorway of the bedroom and said excitedly, "daddy, daddy! it's nomi, nomi's here!"

Both men were just putting the dresser down, but at Jake's yell, froze.

Blair looked at Jim.

Jim looked at Blair.

"Um," Blair said eloquently.

"Yeah, um," Jim agreed. "Um, Jim?"

"Don't 'um' me, Sandburg. She's your mother."

Blair would have flipped his bedmate off, but Jake stood in the doorway, not to mention that he still held his end of the dresser. "Jake, why don't you go keep her company--" Blair's voice trailed off as he caught his son's shocked expression. "You did let her in, right?"

Bright blue eyes widened as once again the small heart-shaped mouth formed a perfect O. Without a word, the herd of wild horses flew out into the hall and tore back into the living room. Jim cocked his head and listening as small feet hit the hard wood floor, said, "Nope, I don't think he did let her in."

"Wise man, our son."

(O)

Jake skidded to a stop in front of the door and quickly threw it open. He leaned forward and pushed at the screen. "wanna come in? daddy and jim are in the bedroom," he said with a huge grin. Naomi pulled at the screen and stepped inside. Behind her, Jake shoved the door closed again and shivered at the sting of cold air that had followed her entrance. With the single-mindedness of a four year old, Jake asked the only thing that could possibly matter to Naomi or any visitor.

"wanna see my room, nomi?"

She gazed down at the open and excited face and found herself just naturally sinking down to his level. She unwrapped her wool scarf and let it drop to the floor along with her shoulder bag. With an answering grin, she said, "I'd love to see your room."

Jake grinned happily and grabbed her hand. "come on, i'll show you my bed and my play table and my pengy and a'course, my wolfy, jakey."

Before she knew it, Naomi Sandburg was being charmingly dragged by the hand through the living room by a blond curly haired boy wearing the top of a pair of Star War pajamas, navy blue briefs and one half-on white sock that flapped as he walked.

(O)

"Blair? Don't you think we ought to--"

"Huh-uh, we should. Definitely."

"Like -- now? As in, 'on the run'?"

Blair lowered the dresser and gazed at his partner. "I suppose we should," he said with a marked absence of enthusiasm. "Jake doesn't think before speaking, Chief," Jim warned, a twinkle in his eye.

"Well, no," Blair said, wiping his hands on his shirt. "Of course he doesn't. He's only fou--" Blue eyes widened and a very sexy mouth formed a perfect O.

"Shit."

"Yup."

They took off at a run.

(O)

Jake almost had Naomi to the hall door when Blair rushed out, closely followed by Jim. Both men skidded to a nervous halt, Jim thudding into Blair's back. With a small wave, Blair quipped, "Hey, mom. Long time, no see. Guess you got my email, eh?"

"Yes, dear, I did. Finally."

"So, where did it catch up to you?"

Jake was still holding Naomi's hand but he was no longer tugging. He was now listening and watching --along with Jim.

"Well, from New Zealand, I traveled to Katmandu and from there, to Sri Lanka and--" A tug at her skirt stopped her and she glanced down at the excited up-turned face.

"my room? and where's sury latka?"

The polite tension was cut, and laughing, Blair reached down and picked up his son. Brushing unruly curls back from Jake's forehead, he said proudly, "Mom, this is Jake, and Jake, this is your gran... this is my mom."

Jake wiggled happily in Blair's arms as he nodded his head. "i know, she's my nomi and she went to the 'lmpics."

"Why yes, Jake, I did. And by the way? I'm very glad to know you."

"my room now?"

Jim shifted to the forefront and took the wiggle wart from Sandburg's arms. "Room second, young man. We get you dressed first. And hello, Naomi. Good to see you."

"Good to see you too, Jim."

As Jim started down the hall, Jake twisted in his arms to keep his eyes on Naomi as he pleaded, "but, but, my room, nomi has to see my room now."

A gentle pat to a wiggling rear was followed by Jim's laughing voice as he warned, "Be patient, Grasshopper."

Once Jim and Jake were out of sight, Naomi turned away from her son, quickly picked up her scarf and bag, and dropped them onto the couch. Turning in a small circle, she took in her son's new home.

"This is beautiful, Blair. And I'm in love with the entrance and courtyard."

Blair took a couple of uncertain steps toward his mother, than self-consciously stopped. He was suddenly very aware of his dirty jeans, white sleeveless undershirt, bare feet, and -- sweat. "Glad you like it, mom."

"I guess I'm a little behind on your life."

"A little."

"I had a backlog of emails. Read them all as soon as I returned to John's place in England. I was very surprised to read that you'd moved out of the loft, but now," she waved her hand around, indicating Jim's stereo against the far wall and the loft table in the dining room behind her, "I can see you've apparently brought much of it here."

Blair shuffled his feet and said, "There was an accident. The loft, the whole building, was damaged. Jim -- lives with me now."

Mother and son hadn't touched or hugged and so far, Naomi had avoided any eye contact with her son, but at the last part of his sentence, her eyes flew to his face. His expression told her exactly what he'd meant, but still... she had to confirm.

"You and -- Jim? Together?"

He nodded warily. Blair loved his mother and had meant every word he'd told her before the press conference, but facts were facts. Blair was now a cop and in addition, now living with Jim in every sense of the word. He'd made the choice to become a cop in spite of her plea to the contrary, and in all the time since, she hadn't been there for him. Nor had she been with him during the time he'd made his heart-wrenching decision to move out of the loft, let alone during the miserable weeks that had followed the move.

She'd failed to answer every single letter, email and voicemail. But it hadn't kept him from trying, nor had it kept him from sending that last email. Taking a deep breath, he said simply, "We're together. In every way."

"I see," Naomi said. Her gaze swept past Blair to the long hall that Jim had disappeared down as she asked, "Is Jake Jim's or yours? He looks like Jim, but he has your curly hair."

In spite of what his mother was inferring, Blair's smile was genuine. "He does look like Jim, doesn't he?"

"Ah, so he's his."

"No, mother, he's ours. His name is Jacob Michael Porter. His grandmother was my landlady. The Anjasmayo belonged to her."

Naomi fingered a bit of red hair behind a shapely ear and cocked her head. "Maybe you'd better tell me?"

Before he could say a word, the thunder of small feet heralded the arrival of the youngest member of the household. Jake, now dressed in jeans and a blue turtleneck sweater, charged into the room, Jim close on his heels.

"all dressed," he said, breathlessly. "now my room? please?" He reached up and took possession of Naomi's hand, then tugged insistently.

With an apologetic glance that promised more talk, Naomi allowed herself to be pulled down the hall.

Jim took one look at Blair's face and immediately came up behind him. He slid an arm around his partner's waist, then rested the side of his face against Sandburg's.

"Didn't go well?"

"Could've gone better. A little awkward, you know?"

"That's not your fault, Chief. She's the one who's been a stranger lately, not you." "Yeah, well, I threw her for a loop. She didn't think for a minute I'd really become a cop."

"I never doubted it."

Blair turned in Jim's arms, reached around him and pinched his firm butt. "Liar."

"Stinker."

"That, my fine Sentinel, would accurately describe the two of us."

Jim took a deep whiff and grinned. "Ah, the delightful odor of manly sweat. Can't get enough of it if half is yours."

"Yeah, well, we're rank, Jimbo. But between the two of us, you're the older, the taller, and the stinkier. You may have the shower first."

"I had every intention of going first, so there. You can finish up with your mom."

Before Blair could do anything to his sentinel, Jim had slipped away and was jogging down the hall laughing. Shaking his head, Blair headed to Jake's room.

(O)

"...and this is my collection of badges, see? Daddy took them from his 'puter. and this is my fort, I built it but jim helped and this is a piccie of the lonely jaguar, see? i drew that and see his eyes? he's very speshul and his eyes are blue and i won these at the halloweeny carn-ee-val and here's a piccie of cherry that daddy drew." One toy after another joined her on the bed, as did large pieces of construction paper, stuffed animals and finally photographs. Naomi listened and watched, her eyes taking it all in. Her heart nearly broke at how much like Blair this boy seemed to be.

Jake climbed up onto his bed and laid four photos on her knee. One small finger pointed to the first one.

"that's me and daddy and jim at the carn-ee-val. Daddy won and so did i. i'm the great wizard jake and daddy is indy and jim is dav-ee crockett, king of the wild frontier." He pointed at another picture and tapped it. "that's my second bestest friend, cherry, see? with her daddy? that's her daddy's fire engine and I have one too but it's broke, but daddy and jim will fix it."

He held the third one up and brought it to Naomi's face, urging her to take it, which she gladly did. "that's me and my gammy but gammy is in heaven with bluey but she didn't want to leave me but she's okay, god is holding her now, see?"

Naomi nodded and wondered about the stinging behind her eyes, but then Jake picked up the final picture and his voice changed a bit as he said, "and this is me and my daddy, see? and he's pushing me on the swing and see, i'm going higher than anybudy else because my daddy is pushing me, see?"

Naomi gazed at the photo, a photo showing her laughing son in jeans and a green sweater, hair tied back, standing behind a swing set and waving at the camera. In front of him, flying high was Jake, hands gripping the chain of the swing, legs kicking out wildly, head thrown back as he laughed.

Naomi saw it all. Sliding her arm around the small body, she whispered, "show me more, Jake."

(O)

"We should rescue her, you know."

Blair was leaning against the sink in the bathroom, watching Jim through the shower door, a small grin on his face. At Jim's suggestion, he pushed himself away from the sink and said nonchalantly, "From what?"

"She's a prisoner in his room."

"Yes and she's finding out everything she needs to know. By the time he's shown her every toy, photo, and stuffed animal, she'll have the big picture."

"I can't believe you're afraid of your mother," Jim said over the sound of the shower.

"I can't believe you're afraid of my mother."

A spray of water hit Blair on the side of his face.

(O)

"kitchen, you havta see our kitchen."

Once again, Naomi found herself being dragged down the hall, through both the living room and dining room, and finally into the kitchen.

"i need a boooster seat and jim said he would buy me one but i only want our telfone book so he covered it for me, see?" She found herself grinning in disbelief. He never stopped -- just like Blair. "are you here for turkey day, nomi? cause we're gonna have the biggest and bestest turkey with apple and walnut stuffin and marshmallows on sweety tatoes and jim says i can mash the other taters, that's what cherry calls them, and daddy is making real bread and jim is making the pie and we're gonna have real whupped cream and you can have one of the drumsticks, 'kay?"

Years of listening to her son's chatter left Naomi well versed in following the conversation of one four year old. She listened, oohed and aahed, and nodded excitedly. At the last part, she knelt down in front of him and put her hands on his hips. "I'd love to share Thanksgiving with you, Jake."

At her acceptance, Jake's eyes grew round with excitement, his mouth following suit, and before Naomi could blink, the boy was zipping around her, barreling through the swinging door and running like the wind through the apartment yelling, "daddy!"

He didn't get far as his small body thudded into Blair's, bounced, and was deftly caught by strong arms before he could hit the floor.

"Whoa, Jake, what's up? You finish showing Naomi around yet?"

"we havta 'vite nomi for turkey day, daddy, we just *hav*ta." He pulled at his father's hand and started tugging ferociously. "come on, we havta invite her now."

As Blair was pulled along, he glanced helplessly over his shoulder at a still slightly damp Jim, who simply saluted, an evil grin on his face.

"Hey, Chief, he's the 'boss round these here parts."

(O)

Jake didn't have to tug his father far. Naomi had left the kitchen and was now standing in the dining room, smiling shyly. She spoke before her son could say anything. "We keep meaning to have Thanksgiving together, don't we? How long has it been, Blair?"

"Ten years. And we'd love to have you, Mom. You know you never need an invitation." Her gaze swept over her son, then down to Jake, and finally to Jim. He nodded his agreement and gave her a lopsided grin. Something melted inside Naomi. She reached out and ruffled Jake's curls. "Looks like you and me are going to demolish a couple of turkey legs, Jake."

"yippee!!"

(O)

"So we're now six for Thanksgiving, eh, Chief?"

"It would appear so." Blair looked hard at his partner and asked, "Are you really okay with this, Jim?"

Ellison snagged the towel from around his wet partner's waist and pulled the body into his. Nuzzling beneath the wet hair, he nodded, then slid his hand down the damp back to stop at the sweet swell of Blair's ass. Letting his finger brush lightly against the moist skin, he whispered, "We're a family now, Chief, and Jake needs his grandmother. Besides, we've never really had what you'd call a traditional Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to it."

"How can you make a simple yes sound so sexy? And you do know your shirt is now all wet?"

"I know you're all wet, Chief."

Laughing, Blair wiggled against Jim's body, effectively rubbing more of his dampness on the larger man. "Not any more, I'm nice and dry now. Smell good too."

"Back off, Stud. Your mother and our son are just outside and--"

"And we have plenty of time. Besides, you love to live dangerously."

Jim tilted his head to give Blair access to his neck, then moaned as Blair rained small kisses on sensitive sentinel skin. "Clean shirt and jeans," Jim groaned, not really caring.

Blair lifted his mouth away from the warm pulsing skin at Jim's neck and grinned. "Rule number one," he whispered softly, "of dangerous sex is remove all clothing first -- and fast, before horny short man rips clothing from equally horny partner."

Jim hurriedly removed his clothes and they tumbled backward onto the bed that Blair had managed to maneuver them toward.

Moments later their laughter was smothered by hot kisses. They were quick, spurred on by the immediate threat of a young voice yelling, "daddy", but the sex was no less impressive for their rush. They'd both learned in the last few weeks as fathers that fast and furious was extremely rewarding.

"So, that's everything, Mom."

The afternoon had sped by with Jim and Blair finishing up with their bedroom while Naomi fixed lunch for her new grandson. After a meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with apple slices and yogurt, Jim offered to take Jake to the park so that mother and son could talk. Now they sat in the living room, the afternoon sun casting long fall shadows across the hardwood floor.

As Blair finished bringing his mother up to date on his life with Jim and Jake, he found himself breathing a sigh of relief. Reliving the last weeks had been more difficult than he'd thought it would be. He watched as his mother took out a tissue and dabbed at her eyes before blowing her nose. "Mom? You okay?"

"I'm fine, honey. Just a bit overwhelmed. I think I would have liked Karen."

"No doubt about it, Mom." Blair stood, and gazing down at Naomi, asked, "Something to drink, maybe?"

Naomi tilted her head in thought, then with a teasing smile, said, "A nice Chardonnay, perhaps?"

"I was thinking -- chamomile tea," he joked back.

"Let's make it together, all right?"

Blair's answer was to hold out his hand.

Naomi smiled gently and took it. Together, arms around each other's waists, they walked into the kitchen.

As they worked, Naomi found that she couldn't hold back the questions that Blair's revelations had generated. "Jake seems so settled, honey. How has he really taken everything?"

Turning the heat on under the water, Blair answered, "There were a few tough days after Karen's death, and I suspect we'll have others. There have been nightmares, sudden crying jags, a lot of clinging, not wanting me to go to work, that kind of thing, even some bet wetting. But overall, we've been very lucky. "I think the impact was somewhat cushioned due to the fact that he'd been with me for a week before Karen's death. Even before that we'd spent so much time together that it just seemed natural, you know? He was already thinking of this place as home, strange as that sounds."

Naomi dropped the tea bags into each mug, then smiling tenderly at her son, said, "I've only spent a short time with him and he's already hooked me. It's like loving you as a child all over again."

Blair brushed a gentle kiss across his mother's cheek. "He's a wonder, Mom. No doubt about it. Jim and I can only guess at his early years as Karen could only share what she encountered when she first brought Jake home. I've got to tell you, Mom, that Jake needed so much. But the love and stability his heart was crying out for, Karen supplied in spades."

"As, I suspect, have you, honey." Blair shrugged as he poured the water into the mugs and together they moved to the kitchen table. While dunking her tea bag absently, eyes on her mug, Naomi said, "Jim seems to have acclimated himself to the situation."

Naomi had chosen her words carefully, keeping her tone neutral, but her son was no dummy. His head shot up and his responding question was almost a dare.

"Why wouldn't he, Mom?"

Naomi stared at the brown liquid in the CPD mug and tried to gather her thoughts. She and Blair were walking on eggshells as it was and she certainly didn't want to shatter any more of them if she could help it. "I don't know, honey," she finally said. "Jim's always seemed such a loner, I guess. Not very family oriented, you know?"

"Mom, he's a natural. Far more than I. In fact, I suspect his one regret regarding his divorce, other than the idea of failure, was that he and Carolyn had no children. He's a big softie, Mom."

Grinning, she held up one hand in surrender. "Okay, okay, you've convinced me. He's fine, he's loving it, I get it, sweetie."

"Good."

Naomi took a thoughtful sip of her now drinkable tea, then asked, "How are you two handling the job and a child? Being a cop doesn't exactly -- I mean, you two don't have normal hours and your situation is rather unique--"

"Mom," Blair immediately interrupted, "we handle our jobs and Jake the same way hundreds of cops handle it. We're hardly unique."

"Hundreds of cops in Cascade are gay?"

"Oh," he said sheepishly, "you mean that kind of unique."

"Yes, dear, that kind of unique."

"We're not the only same sex couple raising children within the Cascade Police Department. Okay," he held up his hand as Naomi started to say something, "we are the only male same sex couple raising a child, but still--"

Naomi tried to bite back the laughter at the way Blair was trying to explain, but the choking and spluttering were a dead give away. She finally let loose. When Naomi realized that she, the original flower child, was sitting in a quaint kitchen that belonged to her beautiful and brilliant son, who was now a cop and carried a gun, not to mention the loving another man part, and had just made her a grandmother, her laughter exploded.

It was only as her mind conjured up pictures of Blair with a gun, a vision further complicated by Jake, that the laughter ended. She tried to control her breathing as she said, "Blair -- what about," she swallowed, "your gun? How do you protect--"

"Mom, come on, you don't think that wasn't my first concern when he started visiting me? Our weapons are stored in a lock box in the closet, on the top shelf, and Jake has been lectured and coached. Trust me, he wouldn't touch either weapon. He's smart, Mom. Very smart."

"I noticed. He's so much like you that it's--"

"Scary?" Blair offered with a grin.

"I was going to say wonderful."

"Yeah, well, that's what you say now." Blair smiled as he spoke, but Naomi caught the fact that said smile hadn't reached his eyes. She was about to question him when the front door slammed shut and Jake's voice cried out, "we're hoooooome!"

Laughing, the two Sandburgs stood and headed out to the living room. As they walked into the dining room, Naomi made herself a promise to quiz her son later.

(O)

"So, how was the park?"

Jake sat on the counter, legs dangling over the edge. He was helping his daddy fix carrots for the salad, help that consisted of sneaking some of the cut carrots and popping them into his mouth every few seconds. "park was kewl and there were new swans, daddy! Just wish't that nomi could have taken me, wanted to show her the swans and ducks and geese and my swing and where cherry and i play--"

Blair held up a hand, laughing. "Okay, I get the picture. Maybe she'll take you tomorrow."

"is nomi gonna sleep on the couch, daddy? cuz, she doesn't *hav*to, she can sleep in my bed with me, she can, honest. or i could--" He paused long enough to pop another carrot into his mouth, just beating out his father's hand. As he pretended to find his tennis shoe very interesting, he finished, "or i could sleep in your room. i could do that."

"Well," Blair said smiling, "you certainly could, but I suspect that such a sacrifice won't be necessary. Besides, how would your pengy and all the rest of your toys survive without you?"

Jake's head shot up, eyes bright and excited as he exclaimed, "oh, but i'd bring them with me, daddy!"

"Huh-uh," Blair muttered as visions of a bed littered with toys and a floor impossible to negotiate filled Blair's mind. "Don't worry, kiddo, we'll figure something out. By the way, Mr. Porter, do I have any carrots left for the salad?"

"a'course," Jake scoffed. Small fingers then tried to pick up several more orange slivers, but this time, Blair's hand was the quicker.

"I don't think so, Hoss. I'll take care of these." Blair scooped them up and dropped them into the salad bowl. After wiping his hands, he lifted Jake and set him down before placing the salad in the fridge.

"Why don't you go whisper in Jim's ear that the kitchen is now his and he can start his famous teriyaki burgers, okay?"

Nodding happily, Jake started to take off on a run, but Blair snagged his shirt. "Um, why don't you walk into the living room, Hoss?"

"that's tooooo slow, daddy! and i gotta tell jim now."

Blair narrowed his eyes as his own childhood actions came back to haunt him. How many times had he been this impatient with his mother as he was growing up? What was that old saying? Oh, yeah: "What goes around, comes around". Smiling ruefully, he addressed his son. "I know there's a great distance between here and the living room, and that between here and there you'll be accosted by alligators, hippos and bears, but slow is good, even if it takes two extra days and you run out of food and water and you get real tired, but still, I suggest you walk -- slo-owly."

Jake had been paying studious attention and as he rubbed his nose, his face brightened. "oh, it won't take me two days, daddy! i'll just hitch a ride with a hippo!" With that, he marched out of the kitchen, leaving an open-mouthed Blair behind.

(O)

Jim and Naomi were talking quietly as Jake walked through the dining room. Seeing just the back of Jim's head, Jake began to tiptoe carefully toward his father. As he crept closer, he held his hand to the side of his mouth and began to whisper, "taraki burgers, taraki burgers, taraki burgers--" "... he was completely astonished--" Jim stopped mid-sentence, cocked his head, and grinned.

"Um, Naomi, seems it's my turn in the kitchen. There are apparently a few teriyaki burgers with my name on them. Will you excuse me?"

Catching a glimpse of Jake peeking around the edge of the sofa, she smiled, winked, then said, "Of course, go ahead."

Jim stood, but not before reaching back and wrapping his fingers around one small hand. "Hey, look who's here? If it isn't my man, Jake. Was the hippo ride fun?"

"fun and bumpy," came the giggling reply.

"I can believe that, Hoss. Now," he swung Jake up and plopped him next to Naomi, "why don't you keep Naomi company while Blair and I do our thing in the kitchen, okay?"

"'kay!"

"We'll call when dinner is ready and you can escort Naomi into the dining room, all right?"

Jake shook his head, whipping it back and forth as he said, "no, no, no, we can't eat in the dining room, that's speshul, for turkey day! we haveta eat in the kitchen, right?"

"Good point, Hoss, very good point. Wouldn't want to overuse the room before Thanksgiving, would we?"

With a positive nod of his head, Jake affirmed, "nope!"

"Right. So when I call, you escort Naomi into the kitchen."

"yup." Another firm nod.

(O)

"In case you're interested, the hippo delivered our son safely into the loving arms of his grandmother. They are now reading Harry Potter, and we're not eating in the dining room."

Blair handed Jim the package of hamburger and said, "Let me guess -- the dining room is only for Thanksgiving and we haveta eat in here. Am I close?"

Jim regarded his partner suspiciously. "Just when did you turn into a sentinel? Exactly?"

(O)

"... and he has a scar, riiiiight here," Jake touched Naomi's forehead and tapped gently, "and it's like litnig and voldeeeeemart gave it to him and he flies on a broom--"

"Who," Naomi interrupted, fascinated. "Voldemart or Harry?"

"harry. and he's the bestest in the world and the fastest too but i bet if my daddy flew a broom, he'd be the bestest - jim too!"

Jake sat comfortably in Naomi's lap, and as the words tumbled out, his finger moved across the book that rested on his lap. Both he and his 'nomi' were bent over the open tome, Naomi's red hair mingling with Jake's blond curls.

"I always knew that if Blair had ever decided to fly a broom, he'd be the best."

Twisting his head so that he could see her, his eyes bright with curiosity, Jake asked, "did he, nomi? Did he ever try?"

"No, sweetie, he didn't. But he tried quite a few other things when he was your age."

"what? what?" Jake demanded.

"Well, he once tried to use my hand beaters to propel him through the water in the bathtub. Got pretty far and fast too, until he flooded the bathroom. And then there was the time he spotted a caterpillar on the sidewalk. He decided to study it but the postman came along and -- well -- he stepped on it. Blair decided right then and there to save all the other caterpillars by capturing as many as he could.

"He decided my bedroom would be a good hiding place so they'd never get--"

"squishted?"

"Exactly. It took him awhile to get their home ready, what with raiding the pantry for all the jars he could reach. Then he had to wash them out in the bathtub, dry them, and finally fill them with dirt and grass. Once he had the jars ready, he caught as many caterpillars as he could and put them in their new homes. He'd talked our neighbor into poking holes in the lids, so once the caterpillars were safe, Blair hid them under my bed."

"did he save them all, nomi?"

"Well, you know, he was mighty little and he really couldn't put the lids on very tight--"

Jake immediately clamped his hand over his mouth as he kicked his legs wildly. From behind his hand, he mumbled, "uhm, ohm!"

"Yep, uh-oh. They escaped and my bed was crawling with them. A little fact I discovered upon climbing in that night."

Harry Potter temporarily forgotten, Jake jumped down from Naomi's lap and ran happily into the kitchen, Naomi following a bit more sedately.

"daddy! daddy! you saved the kittypillars, but they exscapted!" Blair rolled his eyes at his mother, who now lounged against the wall beside the door. At Jake's words, Jim turned from the stovetop, spatula in hand, and said, "Oh, ho, what's this, Jake?"

Grinning broadly, Jake said with great pride and authority, "daddy tried to save all the kittypillars of the world but they exscapted into nomi's bed!"

Jim crossed his arms over his chest and regarded his partner with one raised eyebrow. "And just when did you save all the 'kittypillars' of the world, Chief?"

"Aw, God. Um, Jake, let's you and me--"

But Jake would have none of that. "tell him, daddy, tell him!" But before Blair could even attempt to explain, Jake launched into the story, eyes bright with excitement.

"daddy didn't want anyone else to squish kittypillars, did you, daddy?" At Blair's woebegone expression and mouthed "no", Jake went on. "so daddy emp-teeed a whooooool lot of jars and cleaned 'em real good and fulled them with grass and dirt and good kittypillar things to eat and kapshured a whooool bunch of kittypillars and put them in the jars and he saved them and hid them from being squishted except," he moved closer to Jim and lowering his voice dramatically, whispered loudly, "but they exscapted."

Jim cupped his mouth and whispered just as loudly into Jake's ear, "kittypillars will do that to you every time."

Jake nodded wisely, saying, "i know, but daddy didn't."

"No, Jake, he didn't. Did Naomi tell you about the Superman cape and the toilet?"

Eyes that were already round with glee, grew impossibly wider as Jake peeked around Jim and said, "nomi?"

"Yes, well, I'm saving that one for a bedtime story. For now, why don't we all pitch in with getting supper ready?" She didn't miss the daggers being shot at her from Blair. Grinning, she led Jake to the table.

Dinner was a fun affair as Jake-stories were shared, allowing Naomi to learn even more about her new grandson. Used to Blair's childhood pickiness when it came to food, she was surprised to discover that Jake loved green salads doused with bleu cheese dressing and liberally sprinkled with crispy croutons. It didn't escape her notice that he ate the croutons first, after dunking them to his fingertips in the pungent dressing.

Naomi also noticed that neither Jim nor Blair batted an eyelash when small fingers traveled to their bowls and plucked their croutons from the leafy greens. But the best part was watching him finally shovel the dressing drenched greens into his mouth.

Observing Jim and Blair with Jake was another eye-opener.

She smiled as she watched the way Jake's sloppy teriyaki burger was automatically cut into fourths by Jim even as he told her about a recent case; or the way Blair, without a second thought, handed off the ketchup bottle to Jake as he interrupted Jim with his own version of the story. Relaxed, Naomi listened to the easy banter, watched in delight as Jake's head moved back and forth between his two fathers even as he stuffed long, crispy, ketchup-smothered fries into his mouth. Small instructions would be interspersed between storytelling and Naomi marveled at the parenting she was now counting herself fortunate to witness.

"... so we decided that the guy really was crazy -- Jake, ketchup dribbling -- when he tried to staple his -- you missed a spot, Hoss -- pants shut."

"Yeah, Jim, but who caught him stealing your --Jake, is that you kicking me -- stapler, uh? Me, that's who, and who -- oh, it is, is it? Should I kick you back, young man? And who called Dr. Willard, the police shrink, down to the -- no, Jake, I don't think you can reach Naomi from here to tickle her feet --interrogation room? Uh? Me, that's who--"

"Oh, big deal, Chief. So what if you -- no, you can't have any more croutons, Hoss. You'll turn into one giant cheesy breadcrumb -- rescued my stapler and called Dr. Willard? That's your job now, Detective."

"Well, duh, Detective, and what, Mom? The couch and the new chair? Yeah, we both felt the new ones were more comfortable than the old ones and -- yes, Jake, they're perfect for reading and playing 'capture Jake' on -- yes, most of the furniture from my old room -- yes, Jake, the room you slept in on poker night and not with your mouth full, okay, buddy?"

Naomi finally couldn't help it -- she started laughing delightedly, the sound bubbling up and unrestrained as the three men stared at her -- clueless.

(O)

The dishes were in the dishwasher, the kitchen clean and sparkling. Jake's face had been cleared of ketchup and now all four sat together in the living room, the fireplace ablaze.

The day had gone incredibly fast and now a clean and pajama clad Jake sat on his father's lap for his nightly visit with Harry Potter. Naomi listened as Blair mesmerized them with the adventure. His voice took on all the accents and sounds of each character as he wove the Potter spell for his son. The fire crackled cheerfully as Jim sat beside Blair, long legs home to Jake's feet. His gaze moved contentedly from Jake's rapt expression to Blair's fluid one, his own smile coming and going, his contentment clearly visible. Naomi shook her head absently. So many differences since--

Her thoughts faltered but she picked them up again and thought back to her first meeting with Jim. As she called up the memory, she focused on her son and remembered how amazed she'd been by his hair and how long he'd let it grow. But more than his hair, she'd noticed the glow that seemed to surround him when he introduced Jim. Lord, how proudly he'd said Jim's name.

As her mind replayed the scene in Simon's office, Jim's actions surged to the forefront. The quiet smiling manner in which he'd watched and listened while she and Blair had sparred, and later when Simon had come to Blair's rescue -- God, even then, Jim had loved her son.

Jim Ellison had been in love with her son from the beginning, she realized. Lord love a duck, of course.

And Blair?

No, she shook her head. Not from the beginning. Hero worship, maybe, but not love, not even attraction. But at some point it had happened for him, because the love she was seeing now had been very evident at the press conference.

So how had it finally happened? And when? Another discussion for Blair and her. For now she was content to settle back and let her son's beautiful voice warm her.

(O)

"but what 'bout nomi?"

Blair dropped the upside-down boy on his racecar bed and grabbed for the comforter before Jake could start a tug-o-war. He wasn't fast enough. Jake reached, got a hold, and before he knew it, they were playing Jake's favorite "before I go to sleep" game. Grinning and tugging, Blair answered, "Well, she's decided to take us up on Jim's offer to stay at the loft while she's here. It's clean now and while we haven't finished painting, it's livable and close. How does that sound?"

Jake frowned and was about to protest when Blair tossed in the surprise. "And she's going to stay with you while we're at work next week."

Jake froze in his tug as he asked with wide eyes, "she is?"

"Yep. You'll have plenty of time with her, and she'll eat with us every night and fix you breakfast and lunch--"

"does she know how to make mickey mouse pancakes, daddy? cuz if not, i can show her and how 'bout grilled cheesy samwiches?"

"She's an expert, Jake. And she makes the best French toast in the world."

"'kay, she can stay at the loft then," he said, only somewhat mollified by the decision. "but you gotta tell mags cuz her an puddles will be aw-fully dis'pointed."

"Maybe Naomi will take you over to see them and you can show her Puddles' new tricks."

Pumping his arm in the air, Jake announced, "you betchum!"

Blair gave Jake a patient smile and decided that maybe Jim wasn't quite finished paying for teaching their son about Red Ryder. "You betchum" had become Jake's favorite response, which had been fine until he'd said it to Simon by using the entire quote. Blair could still see Simon's stunned expression when Jake had said, "you betchum, red ryder!".

On the other hand, Blair mused, maybe everyone owed Jim a big favor. "Okay, you snuggle down with wolfy and Jim will be in momentarily, and yes," he hastened to add as Jake started to get up, "Naomi will be in to kiss you good-night too."

Jake grinned and snuggled down as he quipped, "i knew that."

"Huh-uh," Blair said knowingly before leaning over and kissing his son's forehead. He let one finger trail down the button nose, over the lips, down the chin to stop at Jake's chest. Jake obediently glanced down and Blair tapped the small still-baby nose. "Gotcha!" he exclaimed. "Man, you are so easy."

Jake giggled and tried to capture the flying finger but it darted overhead, always staying just out of reach. Blair dipped his finger down, swooping in toward Jake's lips, which opened in an attempt to catch it. Blair changed the direction of his hand and landed in Jake's curls. He tickled, then took off again. They played like this for a few more minutes, until Jim's arrival forced the finger into retirement.

"Hey, ready for bed?"

Jake nodded happily and as Blair turned away, the boy snatched the finger and caught it victoriously. "whoopeeeee! i win, i win!"

"Well, I'll be darned. So you did," Blair admitted with a smile.

Goodnight kisses and hugs were exchanged again, with Naomi arriving just in time to receive her fair share. Giving Jake a last kiss on the cheek, she brought the covers up and tucked them under his chin as he gave her a sleepy "night nomi".

"Sleep tight, Jake. See you in the morning."

"yep! park, swans and frenchy toasty!'

All three smiled and as Jim turned out the light, they could hear a small voice admonish, "and no syrup for you, jakey! syrup is bad for wolfies!"

(O)

Jim sat down on the edge of their bed and kicked off his shoes. Naomi was settled at the loft, Jake was sound asleep, thank God, and to complete Jim's contentment, Blair was divesting himself of his clothes. Life couldn't be better.

"daaaaady!"

Jim sighed and stood. "I'll go." Then with a look at Blair's chest and the soft curling hair, he sighed again. "Just," he waved his hand in the general direction of the bed, "just be naked and under the covers when I get back, okay? For me?"

"Jim, it's only ten."

"Just -- be there, naked. I know a couple ways two guys can pass the time before actually going to sleep. Trust me."

Blair chuckled and said, "Right. I'll get the cards."

"Schmuck."

(O)

Stepping inside Jake's room, Jim found his son on his knees, Jakey clutched to his chest.

"What's up, Hoss? Besides you?"

"thirsty."

"You're thirsty?"

Jake held out the wolfpup. "no, no, jakey is thirsty."

"Ah, yes. Jakey. Shall I take him to the bathroom and let him lap up some water from the faucet?"

"i should go too," Jake announced as he held up his arms.

"Well naturally."

Jim lifted Jake and settled him on his hip, then carried him into the bathroom. He filled Jake's cup, then held the rim to Jakey's muzzle. Jake made some rather convincing slurping noises, then smacked his lips. "jakey's all done now." Jim started to put the glass down, but Jake mumbled, "long as i'm here--"

Suppressing a knowing grin, Jim arched one eyebrow and inquired, "Oh? You're thirsty too?"

Jake ducked his head and nodded, then said, "a little. just a little."

Jim handed the boy the cup, but Jake turned slightly away and shook his head. Jim held the cup to Jake's lips and eyes crinkling in mirth, watched as Jake lapped up the water.

Placing the empty cup in the sink, Jim observed, "You know, I do believe Jakey is a much neater lapper-upper of water than you, young man."

Jake, far from being upset by the observation, simply nodded and said, "i know. but i'm only a little boy - he's a wild animuuuule. i need practice."

Chuckling softly, Jim carried the wild "animuuuule" and the little boy back to bed. He retucked them both in before bestowing final kisses, but as he was heading out, Jake said, "could you tell me 'bout the pilgrums again, please?"

Lord.

(O)

Jim walked wearily into the bedroom. It had taken him twenty minutes to re-tell Jake all about the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, turkeys, and the Indians. Naturally Jake corrected him every time his version deviated from Blair's. But finally, eyes fluttering shut, Jake slept. Now Jim dropped down on the edge of the bed wanting nothing more than to crawl under the covers with his favorite bed-warmer.

Except his bed-warmer was absent.

Hearing the bathroom door open, Jim asked, "Blair, how did this happen? How did we end up parents?"

Grinning, a naked Blair walked out of the bathroom and over to the bed. He went down on his hands and knees, crawled over to Jim, slid one arm around Jim's waist and the other over Jim's right shoulder, then as he nuzzled Jim's neck, he murmured, "It's like this; you get all horny and won't wait for me to provide the required protection and the next thing you know -- you're suffering six weeks of morning sickness. Seven and a half months later -- pop, we're parents."

Bringing his arms across Jim's chest, Blair added in a whisper, "You horny now, my little beefstick?"

Jim dropped his head back on Blair's shoulder and with eyes closed and a smile curling the edges of his mouth, he said, "I am so emasculated."

"Want me to buy you something, my little cupcake?" Blair teased.

"I want a new apron," Jim groused.

Blair dipped his tongue into Jim's ear, then gave the lobe a gentle tug before whispering, "Fuck me first and the world is yours."

Jim shivered and shifted as his very happy dick nudged at his jeans. He turned and spoke against Blair's lips. "So all I have to do is fuck you and the world is mine?"

"The world," Blair whispered, his voice husky with emotion, humor and lust, "me, you name it, my little--"

Jim smothered the rest of Blair's words with his hand, then quickly replaced it with his mouth. Ah, yes, much better. Much, much better. Lips still attached, Jim managed to maneuver them backwards until he was looming over Blair, who had two very busy hands trying to remove Jim's clothing. Somehow he succeeded. Enjoying the feel of skin moving against skin and the tingle of two dicks rubbing, Jim rested his cheek against the soft curling chest hair. For a moment, he stilled, choosing instead to listen to the thumping of Blair's heart. No symphony, orchestra, or band, nor the sweetest piano music in the world, could sound more beautiful nor bring greater happiness to Jim than this simple sound.

Blair, realizing that something was happening, stopped all movement, other than running his right hand up and down Jim's back. "What is it, Jim?"

Jim seemed to burrow in deeper as he said, "Nothing. I -- just -- love listening to your heart."

(O)

Monday came too soon for the Ellison-Sandburg family, but knowing that Naomi would be arriving before they left for work allowed them to grab a few extra minutes of sleep. Cajoling a sleepy Jake out of bed proved easier than usual since all Blair had to do was croon 'Naomi' into his ear.

All three were just completing their bathroom duties when Naomi arrived. Jake, still in his pajamas, immediately said, "yippee! my nomi and frenchy toasty!

Kisses and hugs were exchanged, then while Jim and Blair dressed, Naomi took over in the kitchen. To Jake's avid interest and coaching, she made the French toast and was just scooping several pieces out of the cast iron skillet when Jim and Blair walked in.

"Sit, enjoy, the paper is on the table and the coffee is hot. French toast on its way," she announced, spatula in hand.

Jim looked at Blair, who was staring at his mother as if she were a complete stranger. "Chief, I could get used to this."

"She's wearing your apron, Jim. This woman is not my mother, she's an imposter."

"Sit down now, young man, or this spatula will meet your butt."

Jim quickly scooted in beside his giggling son and said, "You're right, she's not your mother, but do what she says anyway. Maybe she'll give you an extra piece of French toast."

After dropping a kiss on his mother's cheek and narrowly avoiding the spatula, Blair joined Jim and Jake. Five minutes later, all four were enjoying their breakfast and coffee. Of course, Jake's coffee was hot chocolate, but he didn't seem to mind.

The only rough spot came as Blair got up to carry his dishes to the sink and refill his coffee cup. Naomi turned to smile at him and froze. Blair was wearing a holster and a -- gun.

The holster was fitted across shoulders that were broader than she remembered and the leather rested against his side. As she blinked in shock, she realized that naturally Jim was wearing his, but he wore it attached to the back of his belt and mostly out of sight.

Blair, seeing his mother's gaze fastened on the weapon, immediately took her arm and guided her out of the kitchen, leaving a stunned Jake and an understanding Jim behind.

In the living room, Blair let go and faced his mother. With arms held out and away from his side, he said, "This is it, Mom. This is me -- now."

Naomi found that she couldn't take her eyes away from the gun.

The gun.

Her son's gun. In a small voice, she said, "You know how to use that. You know how."

"Of course I do, Mom. And I'm a good shot."

Eyes still fixed on the gun, Naomi asked almost timidly, "Have you -- have you ever--"

"No."

"But you -- would."

"I'm a cop, Jim's partner."

"So you wouldn't hesitate."

"I pray not." Blair moved to her side, his hand seeking her's, suddenly desperate for her understanding. And perhaps her -- blessing. "Mom, I'm at peace with this. It's right, and it's where I belong."

Her eyes lifted and locked on his as her lips parted slightly. For the first time in a long time, Naomi really saw her son.

Blair. And he was still her son. He hadn't really changed, not where it counted. He wasn't different, just -- more. It was as if additional dimensions had been added. Nothing had been lost, as she'd feared, and she could see that now. But still -- in her heart of hearts -- she had to pray that he never had to kill with that gun -- because -- because he was her Blair. With a gentle smile that she hoped would convey her understanding, she said, "You know, I could use another cup of coffee." Grinning in response, Blair led her back to the kitchen.

(O)

The only chore that had to be completed before Jim and Blair left for the station was the removal of the car seat from Volvo. Blair, after one look at Jim, who was gazing up at the ceiling while he whistled lazily, offered to do the dirty job. But he wasn't looking forward to the task, let alone the sweating and cursing that inevitably accompanied the task.

He took his mother out to the garages and started to show her what to do when she held up a hand. Five minutes later she had the car seat sitting on the ground. Blair glanced from it to his mother, then back to the ground. Finally he said, "This is one of those female things, isn't it?"

"I think so, dear."

"Do you have any idea how long it took me - never mind. I'm assuming you require no assistance with securing," he pointed disparagingly down at the seat, "that?"

"No, honey, I don't need any help. But perhaps you should purchase another one today? Then we don't have to go through this twice a day."

"Good idea, Mom."

(O)

"We need to stop at Bryant's on the way home and buy another car seat," Blair suddenly announced.

Jim glanced away from the house they were watching to stare aghast at his partner. "Excuse me? Another car seat? What, am I pregnant again?"

"Ha-ha, Jim. And you'd know before me."

"Sandburg, I know nothing before you. And don't we have enough problems with the one we have? Even working together, it takes us ten minutes to move the damn thing."

"You'd know if you were pregnant before me, and you better not be, cause it won't be mine. We've been playing safe."

"So if I'm not pregnant, why do we need another monstrosity called a car seat for our one child?"

"For Naomi. So we don't have to keep changing the damn thing every day. And while we're at it, you need to buy a new car. You're gonna have to give up the truck."

Jim blinked. Then blinked again. He couldn't remember crossing through the looking glass or any other parallel universe-type device. "*I*need to give up the truck?"

"Come on, Jim, do you really want to go back to taking two vehicles to and from work? Or taking the Volvo everywhere we need to go as a family? Of course, we could just start taking the Volvo to work and leaving the truck at home, but I don't think the green bomb is exactly police material, you know?"

"So you buy the new car. A police-material car."

"Cool! I'd love to. I'd love doing all the driving, chasing down the bad guys, and we both know I'm the better driver--"

"Sam Golden in Burglary has had his eye on this truck for months," Jim hastily interrupted. "He'll take it in a minute. I'm thinking -- SUV. Or maybe a Jeep? Or another Ford?"

"Um, could work." Blair grinned. Jim was so easy.

Eyes back on the house, Jim mused, "Maybe we could go shopping this weekend? They always have great sales over the Thanksgiving holiday, right?"

"Yeah, great idea, Jim. But no Expedition. Bad karma, you know. And most definitely no F-150."

"Oh. Right."

As Jim watched the house, his thoughts started traveling. A big truck, lots of room for sports equipment, kid stuff, bicycles, camping equipment-- "When do we take Jake camping?" he suddenly asked.

"It's a little cold now, but spring would be good. He's never been, could be fun." Blair watched Jim from the corner of his eye and smirked as the older man began to nod enthusiastically.

"We'll teach him to fish. He'll love it, Chief."

"Suspect so."

"Could buy him a fishing pole for Christmas."

"Yeah, we could do that. And his own sleeping bag."

Jim was in the process of turning excitedly back to Blair when his sentinel hearing picked up the opening of a door. Jim focused and quickly identified the three people exiting as their targets.

"Fuck. They're on the move, Chief. This is it, make the call."

The small niggling feeling that he was being watched forced Carl Dodd to sneak a furtive look over his shoulder. He could find nothing out of the ordinary. No people or cars, just one water sprinkler washing the sidewalk across the street. Satisfied, he quickly opened the garage door and hurried inside, his partners in crime a few steps behind.

He, John Rambus and Jolene Watkins, had robbed several Import/Export businesses in the last three weeks and the money was stashed in the freezer in the garage. They'd played it safe by laying low in the rental house, but were now ready to head out of town and try greener pastures and newer pickings. Dodd and his cohorts utilized one game plan and stuck to it religiously; send Jolene to each business on the pretext of wanting to import rugs for her supposed decorating business. Her job, once inside, was to case the building and inquire about security and their ability to protect her merchandise. While on the inevitable tour, she'd take pictures from the small camera hidden in her purse.

Jolene, in addition to her little camera -savvy purse, wore Joy, something that made it ridiculously simple for Jim to pinpoint the one thing all robberies had in common. Once he'd assured himself that no employees of the victimized business used Joy, he'd ask about female visitors. He'd hit pay dirt at each of hit import-export businesses, thanks to each owner relaying a recent visit by a comely brunette wearing expensive clothing, jewels and -- Joy.

A composite had been quickly created but it was a simple mistake made by the mysterious Joy-doused lady that had finally broken the case wide open. It seemed that their mystery lady got too cocky and at the last business, she'd touched something; a small male nude figurine.

Once the prints had been lifted and processed, it had all came together. Her identification led the Cascade PD directly to her cohorts. She was known to associate with Carl Dodd and John Rambus and in fact, all three were wanted in six states in connection with several robberies and scams.

In doing their background check on the three, Jim and Blair discovered a quirk; when invading a city, the three always rented a home. Working all morning, checking every real estate agent in Cascade, the detectives of Major Crime found three possible rentals that fit the timetable.

Which explained why Jim and Blair were parked on a 'T' intersection, several hundred feet from 13762 Wisteria Lane. Detectives Brown and Rafe were eating stale tuna fish sandwiches on Elm Street and Detective Taggert and Inspector Conner sat playing I Spy on Emerson Avenue. Prior to the movement now occurring, the only conversation overheard by Jim had been a male voice inquiring about the location of the morning paper and a female voice answering that it was in the bathroom. That small exchange had done nothing to aid in determining if they had the right house. But now, as three adults, all matching the descriptions, walked into the garage, it looked as though the team of Ellison and Sandburg had drawn the lucky rental.

Jim watched the two men empty the freezer of four large saran-wrapped packages. He zeroed in on them to confirm that the stolen money was inside, and satisfied that it was, he said, "Ready, Chief?"

"Ready."

Jim started the engine and drove forward slowly. He signaled and made his left onto Wisteria. The house was halfway up the block. As Jim proceeded at a snail's pace, the three criminals started to get into a green Buick Regal parked in the driveway. When the reverse lights came on, Jim hit the accelerator.

"Hang on, Sandburg."

The Buick started backing out so Jim swung the wheel sharply to the right and screeched to a stop behind the car. The brakes on the Regal were quickly applied. Seconds later, Carl Dodd jumped out and never once thinking the old truck might contain cops, yelled angrily, "WHAT THE FUCK?"

Both detectives opened the doors and took up defensive positions behind them, their guns drawn.

"THIS IS THE CASCADE POLICE DEPARTMENT. EVERYONE OUT OF THE CAR - NOW!"

Jim's words energized Dodd. He immediately ducked behind the car door even as he pulled a gun. He fired three rounds at the truck.

Jim focused sentinel sight under the Buick and fired. A scream of pain greeted his shot. As Dodd fell to his side, gun dropping from panicked fingers, sirens heralded the arrival of their back-up. One car, driven by Detective Brown, pulled in behind the truck as two others, one a squad car, the other the Ford Tauras belonging to Taggert, pulled alongside the driveway.

Seeing the barricade of vehicles, Jim yelled out, "YOU, IN THE CAR, THROW OUT YOUR WEAPONS, STEP OUT CAREFULLY AND PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!" The passenger door was pushed open and Jolene Watkins stumbled out, her knees hitting the ground even as she struggled to raise her arms. She was, to sentinel sight, clearly unarmed. A moment later, the back passenger door on the right also opened and disgorged the final member of the gang. A gun was tossed several feet away to land on the grass. John Rambus followed, and like Jolene, went to his knees, hands clasped on top of his head.

Jim, Rafe, and Henri moved forward, guns trained on the suspects. Megan moved to Dodd, who lay on the grass bleeding from a bullet wound to his knee. Jim could hear the siren of the approaching ambulance and realizing that Henri and Rafe could handle Rambus and Watkins, he started to turn to Megan. A sound from the right side of the truck caught his attention and stopped. "Jim?"

Rapid heart beat, the scent of blood-- Jim raced around to Sandburg's side of the truck and skidded to a stop. Blair sat with his back resting against the side of the vehicle, right hand pressed flat against his left shoulder. Blood seeped from between pale fingers.

"Fuck," Jim hissed out as he knelt beside his partner. It didn't take a genius to note the sweat gathering on Blair's upper lip, his pallor, the shallow breathing -- or the wry smile.

"Right through the damn crack, Jim. Rivals your aim."

Jim craned his neck, spotted Joel, first aid kit in hand, and yelled, "TAGGERT, OVER HERE WITH THAT - PRONTO!"

Joel never blinked as he spun around and ran to Jim's position. When he spotted Blair and the blood, anxious fingers began to tear through the kit to pull out bandages. Seconds later, he and Jim were ripping them open and stuffing them against the wound.

Blair watched, then whispered, "Kinda slippery in the back, Jim." Fuck, Jim thought. Exit wound.

He placed Blair's hand over the dam of bandages, pulled him carefully forward, then used his shoulder as a brace for the younger man. The exit wound came into view and Joel immediately started packing it with more bandages. As Blair rested his head on the offered shoulder, he muttered, "Mom is gonna kill me."

"No, Chief. She's gonna kill me."

(O)

Blair remained conscious, if somewhat addled, throughout his stabilization and loading into the ambulance. The medics tried to convince Jim to follow, but no one was surprised when he jumped inside and took a seat next to the gurney holding his partner. Just before the doors were closed, he tossed his keys to Megan.

As the ambulance raced through the streets, lights flashing and siren blaring, Blair watched Jim fuzzily. It felt weird to be the reason for the speed, the noise and the blinking lights. Had he ever been conscious while being transported? No, he was sure not.

Blair tried to count back -- there had been Lash, except no ambulance -- just Jim's truck -- and he hadn't gone to the hospital. He'd definitely been unconscious when he'd been taken to the hospital after the drug overdose -- and did hanging from a helicopter count as ambulance transportation? Probably, but he'd been unconscious by the time the damn thing had landed. And of course, he'd been, well -- dead - when Jim had fished him out of the fountain. And certainly he'd been out of it while being transported, and had, in fact, stayed that way for 24 hours. Good place to be sometimes - la-la land.

Okay, this was a first then. This was the first time he'd been transported awake. And man, sirens were loud when you were inside. And if the noise wasn't bad enough, there was Jim doing his jaw dance. The man's eyes were doing a little dance of their own too. First he'd fasten that pale blue gaze on the IV drip, then down to Blair's chest, then back again. Oh, yeah, this was fun.

Blair decided to try and buck up his partner.

"Man, get over it. This could just as easily have been you. Besides, the wound is clean, in, out and high. Bet the doctor sends me home, Jim. So buck up, damn it." Jim shook his head in amazement but Blair didn't miss the small grin tugging at the corners of Jim's mouth. "Bet I get good drugs with this too," he added, just to see that beautiful grin widen. He wasn't disappointed.

"Sandburg, you're hopeless."

"Nah, but this is guaranteed to ensure a few days of being waited on hand and foot. Good drugs, good service, servants catering to my every whim -- oh, yeah, I'm down with this."

A chill ran through his body as his eyes started to drift shut -- but then they popped open in horror as he tried in vain to sit up. "Jake," he hissed out in panic. It took Jim and the other paramedic to keep Sandburg down. "Ssh, it's okay. I'll tell him, Chief, he'll be fine. And Naomi is with him, remember?"

At the mention of his mother's name, Blair fell back weakly, eyes closing tightly. "Oh, yeah -- and we're both dead meat. Her first fucking visit and we get a bad guy with incredible aim or incredible luck."

(O)

Naomi watched lovingly as her grandson drew pictures at the kitchen table.

Her grandson.

She was a grandmother. This was so groovy.

Naomi grinned at her use of the word so loved in her younger days. She watched Jake's laborious efforts on her behalf -- he was drawing her the "bestest ever picture" -- and shook her head in wonder. She was looking at a carbon copy of her son.

She was about to try to sneak a peek at the drawing when the phone rang. Still smiling and with her eyes on Jake, she walked to the phone on the wall and picked up. "Hello?"

There was a moment of silence on the other end but in the background she heard what sounded like a voice over a speaker.

//Naomi? It's Jim. There's been -- a bit of -- um, Blair has been--//

"Jim, what is it?" Her voice carried a twinge of panic and she quickly glanced back to Jake, relieved to find that he hadn't heard her.

//Naomi, don't panic. We don't want to scare Jake, and Blair really is fine. But he -- was -- has been --shot. The wound is clean and he's fine, okay?//

She nodded, eyes glued to the small boy sitting so peacefully at the kitchen table. Then she remembered that Jim couldn't see her nod. "Which -- I mean, where are you?"

//Cascade General, ER//

"All right. You'll keep me -- posted?" She heard a sound on the other end of the phone and she suspected it was a sigh of relief.

//Yes, of course. I'll call you from his room as soon as I'm allowed to see him//

"Very good, Jim. Talk to you shortly." She hung up quickly because Jake was suddenly paying attention, head cocked, eyes regarding her solemnly.

"that was jimmy?" At her nod, he wagged a finger at her and said, "bad nomi, rule is i always get to talk to jimmy or daddy!"

She grinned at his attempt at severity and answered with, "I see. Well, in the future, I shall be quite pleased to make sure you talk with them."

Jake nodded happily and was about to go back to his drawing when she made an instant decision. "Jake, we need to go somewhere." What changed her mind, she'd never later be able to say, but suddenly it was the right thing to do, the necessary thing.

The blue eyes that regarded her now held worry. Jake might only be four, but he'd immediately picked up on her concern. He scrambled up and asked, "go where, nomi?"

She knelt down before him and took one small hand. "Honey, daddy's had a little accident and we need to go to the hospital."

Jake pulled his hand away and stepped back, shaking his head. "nuh-uh. my daddy is fine. he and jimmy will be home in a while."

"He is fine, sweetie, but I thought you might want to see him, and I know he'll want to see you."

Eyes widened, then narrowed with such suspicion that Naomi almost regretted her decision. "he's fine? okay? my daddy is okay?"

"Yes, honey."

With the stubbornness and simplicity of a four year old, Jake shook his head and demanded, "so he should be hooooome now!"

Jake hadn't moved an inch and his body language warned Naomi not to try to comfort him -- yet. She was beginning to realize that maybe she'd made yet another mistake, but it was too late to back off. Taking a deep breath, she forged ahead. "Sweetie, sometimes doctors like to keep you overnight or even for a couple of days, so daddy may not be able to come home right away, but you can see him, okay?"

Jake ducked his head, took a swipe at his face and then mumbled, "'kay."

Naomi rose and started for the door, Jake with his head down, following. She moved out to the dining room and took his small red jacket off the chair. She held it out for him and he silently allowed her to help him into it, then waited patiently while she grabbed her purse and keys. Holding out her hand, she asked, "Ready?"

Jake nodded, his expression guarded.

(O)

"You know the bullet made a clean exit?"

"Tell me something I don't know, Doctor."

Doctor Phillip Meadows smiled. He was used to dealing with cops when one of their own was brought into his hospital. Get to the point, give all the pertinent facts, let the partner see the injured partner as soon as possible, and you'd have a happy group of cops.

"Basically, Detective Ellison, your partner is going to be fine. He did lose quite a bit of blood and we're transfusing now, but he was very lucky. No real damage, muscles good, nothing vital hit. We're going to admit him, keep him a couple of days and if all goes well, he can go home Wednesday, just in time for Thanksgiving. At this point, I'm estimating full duty in two or three weeks."

The tall man before him closed his eyes briefly, then nodded. "I can see him now?"

It didn't escape the notice of Doctor Meadows that while the request was most definitely in the form of a question -- wasn't.

"He's in--"

"Treatment room four, I know."

"Er, yes. Go on in. He's a little woozy now, but feeling no pain."

"Thanks, Doc."

They shook hands and as Jim started for his partner, Simon stepped out of the elevator, his signature unlit cigar clamped between grinding teeth. Before he could ask, Jim held up one hand and said, "He's fine. They're giving him blood now, he can go home in two days and will back to full duty in two or three weeks. Give or take a couple of heart attacks -- mine."

Simon's relief was immediately evident; he removed the cigar. "You gonna share how this happened?"

"Hasn't Joel?"

"He has, but I'd--"

"Like to hear it from me?"

"Do I get to start or finish a sentence around here, Detective?"

"Sorry, sir." But it was obvious from the twinkle in Jim's eye that he wasn't.

Simon pointed the cigar at him and said, "So, you're standing here with me for what reason? Go see your partner. You can fill me in later."

"Aye, aye, Captain." Jim gave a small salute, spun on his heels and marched to treatment room four, Simon's famous glare giving his back a good sunburn.

As Jim disappeared around the corner, Simon lowered his head and rubbed his eyes. Sandburg had been a cop for how long now and already in the hospital? Geez. But he had to hand it to Jim, the man seemed to be handling it well. Hell, Simon was damn proud of how he was handling this, let alone Jim. For a few minutes, Simon debated waiting for a chance to see Sandburg himself or to head back to the station, but the ping of the near-by elevators said office. The door slid open and he found himself face-to-face with Naomi Sandburg and -- Jake.

Well -- fuck.

"Naomi," he said warily.

"Simon."

Odd. He couldn't move. He watched as Sandburg's mother stepped out, Jake clinging to her hand for all he was worth. Simon could tell the boy was scared, his blue eyes taking in the corridor, darting back and forth and clearly -- searching.

Simon could suddenly move. He quickly knelt before the small lost-looking boy. "Hey, Hoss, how ya doing?"

Wide blue eyes blinked back at him, then skittered away, still searching.

"Jake, he's fine. Jim is with him right now and the doctor said he can go home in two days. He'll be home for Thanksgiving, son."

"home? for thanksgiving?"

"Yes, Jake. Home," Simon reassured.

Jake uncurled two fingers from his tightly clenched fist and held them up, repeating, "two days?"

"Yep. Two days." Simon waggled two of his own in Jake's face, then dove in and tickled. A small smile crept out. "Bet you'd like to see him, uh?"

"please?"

Simon glanced around, fully aware that children weren't allowed in ER, let alone the treatment rooms. Hell, Jake might not even be allowed in Blair's room. It was a sure bet that Blair would be out of it, not to mention that any equipment he was hooked up to might be frightening for Jake. But would IVs upset him more than not seeing his father? Probably not.

"Okay, Hoss, but first, let's go over there," he pointed to a row of chairs against the far wall, "sit down and I'll fill you in, okay, buddy?"

Jake nodded slowly, then slipped his hand from Naomi's and held it out to Simon. The big man took it and as he guided the boy to one of the chairs, he had to blink back a sudden sting of moisture. When he sat down, he quickly lifted Jake to his lap. While Naomi settled herself on the other side, Simon told both of them everything that Joel had told him and all that Jim had shared about Blair's condition. He didn't exactly hold back, but he did choose his words very carefully.

As he spoke, Jake's eyes grew wider and he'd shake or nod as necessary. His small fingers never relinquished their tight hold on Simon's massive ones. When Simon was finished, Jake's eyes were the size of saucers, his mouth forming a small o.

"the bad guys? daddy and jimmy caught 'em?"

"Yep, they did. Got 'em cold, Hoss. Now, you ready to see your daddy?"

Jake immediately slid from Simon's lap and cocked his head in a gesture that could only be translated into, "what's keeping you?"

Grinning, Simon, reached out and tugged at Jake's jacket, bringing the boy back in close. Placing his hand against Jake's soft pale cheek, he gazed at him over the rim of his glasses and warned, "You understand that your daddy will be tired and very sleepy, right?" At Jake's serious nod, Simon went on. "And you understand about the IV?" Again, Jake nodded solemnly, then added, "energy juice."

Simon's grin spread wide across his handsome face as he agreed. "Exactly, Jake, exactly. I'd say we're ready." A small hand grabbed a large dark finger, and Simon rose. With Naomi holding Jake's right hand and Simon holding his left, the three started down the long hall.

(O)

Jim moved to the side of the bed and took the still hand in his own. He squeezed and whispered, "Chief?" Eyelids fluttered and after repeating his entreaty, the hand Jim held squeezed back and the eyelids lifted.

Sandburg smiled wanly and in a voice raspy from thirst, said, "Hey, man."

"Hay is for horses. How ya feeling?"

"Um, like -- I just got kicked by a horse. Thanks for asking." Jim grinned and lowered his head. He touched Blair's lips with his own, then ran his tongue over the younger man's lower lip. Blair scrunched up his face, saying, "Euwww, taste of hospital."

"No," Jim whispered back, "taste of Blair."

"You are so gone on me, man."

"Don't you know it."

Blair smiled as his eyes moved to the left. Jim, following the movement, spotted the water glass and immediately moved to pour. Fortunately the hospital bed was already somewhat raised, so all Jim had to do was cup the back of Blair's head to bring him within sipping reach of the straw. Blair sipped the water gratefully.

When Blair was done, Jim lowered the injured man back down. As he was replacing the glass, Blair's heart started racing. Jim didn't even have to ask. "I called her, she knows, and everything's cool. Relax."

Voice fortified by the cooling liquid, Blair chuckled and said, "I feel like I should salute."

Jim sat down carefully on the edge of the bed and smiling, said, "Well, if you must." For a moment, the two men just stared at each other, grinning. Blair's fingers somehow found their way around Jim's. The moment lengthened until Jim suddenly cocked his head, then muttered under his breath, "Shit."

"Jim?"

"She's here, Chief. And -- she brought Jake."

"I knew it. I just knew it."

Standing, Jim reassured his partner. "I'll take care of it, don't worry."

"Jim, don't let him see me here in the treatment room, like this," he swung his gaze up to the hanging IV bag full of the dark red, life-giving liquid. "Wait until they move me upstairs and this thing finishes, okay?"

"You got it, babe. Go back to sleep. I'll take care of him."

Jim started to leave, but an "ahem" from the bed caused him to turn back, a questioning look on his face.

"Your shirt, Jim. The -- blood."

"Fuck."

Jim immediately pulled the edges of his jacket together and zipped it up. "How's that?"

"You'll pass."

Simon could see the cubicle that had the number '4' attached to the green curtain. With Jake's hand in his, the small fingers gripping tighter than Simon would have thought possible for a four year old, they moved forward only to have Jim step out from the other side of the billowing sheet. Jake's hand immediately slid from Simon's and the boy launched himself at his father. Jim was ready and easily caught the boy, then swung him up to nestle securely in his arms.

"jimmy! where's my daddy? must see my daddy now!"

His voice wasn't loud, but it was stubbornly insistent. As he spoke, Jake searched all around Jim, his head bobbing first right, then left in his search for his daddy.

"Hey, welp, it's okay. Daddy's fine and right now, we're gonna go sit in the special room--"

"but i want -- no -- *have*ta see him."

"I know, and you will, but let's talk first." Jim walked away from the cubicle and turned into the small and empty waiting room. He sat down on one of the couches and waited until a nervous and pale Naomi took her seat next to him. Simon remained standing.

Once everyone was settled and Jake had stopped wiggling, Jim started in. "Okay, honey, listen up. Daddy is okay, but he did lose some blood," Jim paused, gauging Jake's reactions. At the nod of understanding, he went on. "As soon as they finish giving him more to replace what he lost, the hospital staff will move him to a real room and that's when we can see him. Until then, you and I have to wait here. But, guess what?"

Eyes downcast, a sad, frowning Jake mumbled, "what?"

"Daddy told me -- to tell you -- that he loves you and expects a big eskimo kiss the minute we get into his room. Think you can handle that?" Jake's head came up and with blue eyes swimming in unshed tears, he blinked twice. The corner of Jake's mouth twitched, heralding a small grin. In a tremulous voice, he asked, "a esk-eeee-mo kiss?"

"Yep. You can do that, right, Jake?"

Nodding eagerly, Jake affirmed, "i can do that. esk-eeeee-mo kisses are my bestest kisses." Then in typical stubborn Jake fashion, he added, "soon. must be soon!"

"Just as soon as they move him, welp. In the meantime, we can watch the television up there," he pointed to the corner of the ceiling, "which just happens to be showing a Batman cartoon."

Jake shook his head worriedly. "no, too long, too long, must see now, jimmy!"

Jim's expression softened as he noted Jake's lower lip starting to tremble. He quickly cupped the back of Jake's head and brought him in close, tucking him under his chin as he began to croon softly. "I know, babe, I know. And it will be soon, I promise." Jim started to rock the small body, then slipped his left hand under Jake's sweatshirt and started rubbing gentle reassuring circles on the soft warm skin.

(O)

Simon's legs were stiffening up on him so careful not to disturb Jim or Jake, he rose slowly, stretched, then moved the few steps to the door to glance down the hall.

Nothing happening and they still hadn't moved Blair, but then, it had only been thirty minutes since Jim had brought them into the waiting room. He turned around, and smiled. Jake, his body almost molded to Jim's, was watching the cartoons, one hand clutching Jim's jacket, the other against his lips. It was obvious to Simon that Jake was as close as he'd ever seen him to actually sucking his thumb. Which was a testament to the boy's worry and unease.

Jake needed to see Blair and Simon just hoped that they could get him in without any fuss. Naomi watched as Jim nuzzled the soft curls under his chin, then drop down and press a tender kiss against Jake's temple. The boy smiled slightly and Jim, sensing it, let his fingers start to climb up Jake's sweatshirt. Jake giggled, but didn't try to stop the advancing threat. Jim paused, then dug one finger in and tickled. More giggles erupted a Jake's fingers joined the fray. Soon, Jim and Jake were indulging in a war of fingers and it was clear that Jake was going to win.

As Naomi followed their play, she could feel the tears threaten. She'd been right -- and -- she'd been wrong to bring Jake. Naomi fought down the urge to stand, to go into the hall, to demand -- no, if Jake had to wait, so must she. But God, how she needed to see her son.

(O)

Another hour passed and not once did Jake let his guard down. He had to be exhausted, but he didn't give in, didn't sleep or nap. His vigilance finally paid off. A woman in white stepped into the room. "Detective Ellison?"

Jim lifted his hand and the nurse addressed him. "Detective Sandburg has been moved to room 112. You may see him now. Go to the end of the hall, through the double doors, then to your left. His room will be third on the right."

At the blessed words, Jake began to bounce in Jim's arms. Smiling, all three adults headed out to find room 112, Jake content to ride in his father's arms.

(O)

They stood just outside 112, Jake trying to peek in and catch his first glimpse of his father.

"Jake, my man, before we go in, you need to understand a few things, okay?" Jim cautioned.

Jake nodded impatiently, but he listened.

"Your daddy will have what's called an IV hooked to his arm, but that's a good thing. There will be a machine inside that will show you daddy's heartbeat too. It's kinda neat, but we can't touch it. And finally, daddy is wearing a bandage, a big white one, across his chest and over his left shoulder. He'll be kinda sleepy and a little pale, okay?"

The eyes of an owl had nothing on Jake Porter at that moment. He nodded, his expression one of awe. "heartbeat? i can see my daddy's heartbeat?"

"You sure can. You ready?"

Pursing his lips, he gave a little humph, then said, as if everyone should know, "i been ready for, like, forever!"

Chuckling, Jim said, "Right. And you've been darn patient too, young man. Let's go in and start those eskimo kisses." Jim gave the boy a peck on the end of his nose, which solicited the required giggle.

They walked in, Naomi and Simon right behind.

(O)

Sandburg heard the giggle and opened sleepy eyes. He watched Jim, with Jake in his arms, move toward the bed. Once they were close enough, and noticing how Jake was almost jumping out of the protective circle of Jim's arms, Blair gave his son a dopey grin. "Hey, guys, got no place better to visit than a hospital?"

Simon walked around to the left of the bed and snorted. "You got it, Sandburg, no place better than your sorry excuse for a hospital room. And have you forgotten the first thing we learned at the academy? Ducking 101?"

"Hey, I ducked, man! unfortunately -- so did the bullet." Blair gave his boss a small shrug, a shrug that involved only his right shoulder.

Naomi, standing at the foot of the bed, cringed at the word "bullet", but remained silent, happy to be able to drink in her son's appearance. She almost moaned at his pallor and at the expanse of bandages, but quickly sent up a prayer of thanks to whomever might be listening.

Jake kept leaning forward, trying unsuccessfully to get to his daddy, but Jim held fast. "daddy? daddy?"

"Hey, pardner, how ya doing?"

"would be better, would be better--" He leaned forward again, this time almost tumbling out of Jim's arms.

Jim managed to lean back at the last minute, as he cautioned, "Whoa, buddy, hang on."

"esk-eeee-mo kiss! haveta give daddy the esk-eeee-mo kiss!"

"Just a minute, or you'll land headfirst on the floor!"

"nuh-uh, you'll catch me."

Simon was about to say something about that when a nurse stepped in and spotted Jake. Gasping, she said, "Excuse me, but children are not allowed in the patients rooms. You'll have to take him out into the waiting room immediately."

With a saintly expression to rival the angels, Jim turned and said, "How exactly does this rule apply to us?"

The nurse blinked rapidly and then indicating Jake, said stiffly, "That would be a child. The rule is for their protection as well as the patient's. I absolutely must insist."

"Ma'am," Jim replied in his best gentleman-cop tone, "there are no children in this room." He then turned to Simon and entreated, "Captain Banks, back me up here."

Drawing himself to his full height of six feet, five inches, Simon said regally, "Detective Ellison is correct. There are no children in this room." He favored Blair with a dubious glance and as an afterthought, added, "Unless you count your patient, who forgot to duck." Jake put his hands over his face in a good imitation of an ostrich, Naomi just shook her head, and Blair simply closed his eyes. He figured that pretending to sleep might protect him later from the amazon that was clearly his nurse. Something about the tableau must have gotten to the woman because suddenly she took off her glasses, wiped them a bit, then said gruffly, "Must need a new prescription." She turned on her heel and walked out.

Blair opened his eyes and said with disgust, "She's right. There are children in this room."

Jim nodded and added with a grin, "Five, counting you." Jake giggled, then wiggled insistently. Jim lowered him to the bed, allowing the boy to perch on the edge. With legs dangling over, Jake grabbed his daddy's hand and held on with both of his own.

Blair watched Jake -- and Jake watched Blair. Finally Blair said in mock seriousness, "I have the need for a nose to nose confrontation, Mr. Porter." That was all that Jake needed. With surprising care and gentleness, he scooted over, fitted himself against Blair's good side and smiling, began to rub his nose against his father's. Eyelashes fluttering as their noses moved, Jake started to giggle. When they were done, Jake planted a big kiss on Blair's cheek, then settled back down as if he were home.

One eyebrow cocked, Blair looked up at Jim, who simply smiled lovingly back. Blair gave a small surprised shake of his head and glancing back down at his son, said, "Well. I'm comfortable now, how 'bout you, Jake?"

Hands securely wrapped around Blair's arm, which rested across Jake's chest, Jake said cheekily, "i'm purrrr-fect!"

"Well, thank goodness."

Jake tilted back his head and frowning slightly, asked, "hurt?"

Blair shook his head and answered, "Nah, eskimo kisses are great medicine, Hoss."

Jake lifted his head up a bit, and with a twinkle in his eyes, said, "me, medicine man!"

Soft chuckles greeted his words and he happily dropped his head back down, feeling truly good for the first time since his nomi had told him they needed to go to the hospital. He didn't like hospitals.

Naomi stepped closer and held out her hand. Blair managed to untangle his from Jake and took his mother's, saying, "It's okay, Mom."

"I know, honey, I know. And I'm dealing."

Blue eyes glittered back at her as Blair said softly, "You have no choice."

If Jim or Simon had been eating or drinking at that moment, food and beverage would have quickly decorated Blair's room. Both men did a double take as their mouths dropped open. Naomi had the grace to blush. "I get it, honey. I do."

Satisfied, Blair nodded. Simon chose that moment to say his good-byes. Patting Blair's head and smirking, he said, "I'll check in on you later. Don't drive the nurses to distraction and be good."

"Yes, sir, whatever you say, sir."

Rolling his eyes and then glancing at Naomi and smiling, Simon muttered, "Like that was ever true." He then stepped over to Naomi and giving her a hug, said, "It's good to see you again, just wish the circumstances were a bit different."

"I know," she agreed. "And I guess we'll be seeing each other on Thursday?"

"Absolutely. I'm looking forward to it. Although," he added, with a glance back at Sandburg, "I'm thinking this could be a disaster with Blair out of commission, cooking-wise, that is."

"Hey," Blair interrupted, "I can supervise."

"We'll see, Sandburg, we'll see." Simon turned back to Naomi. "I'm looking forward to having Daryl meet you."

Naomi smiled just as Jake said, "uh-oh."

All eyes were trained on him as he shrugged and said sadly, "only two drumsticks!"

(O)

Jim flipped through the magazine, amazed at his choices. Picking out a new truck wasn't going to be as easy as he'd thought.

As he perused the magazine, he pondered the fact that Naomi had decided to leave with Simon. Both he and Blair had been surprised by it, but neither could say exactly -- why. Maybe it had been the way Naomi had looked up at Simon, or the way Simon had gazed down on Naomi. Not that Blair had spent much time wondering. Less than fifteen minutes after his mother's departure, he'd fallen asleep, his son following suit. Jim, left to his own devices, had stopped thinking of his boss with Sandburg's mother and had grabbed a couple of magazines from the waiting room, content to wait and -- watch. Putting the magazine aside, Jim glanced over at his partner and their son. His expression softened as he took in Jake's position. The boy was curled up against his father, one tiny hand resting on Blair's stomach. Jim wondered idly if all three of them would fit on the hospital bed. Best not go there. Nope, the nurse would throw them out for sure. He glanced at his watch and noted that in less than an hour, dinner would be served. He'd have to get Jake up soon, maybe take him down to the cafeteria and grab a couple of sandwiches to go, then join Blair for dinner. He leaned forward and brushed some hair from Blair's face as he decided that yeah, he had a good plan. They'd eat, he'd take Jake home, get him into bed, Naomi would baby sit, and Jim would come back here. In the meantime, they could sleep and he'd watch.

(0)

Jake's eyelids fluttered as his small fingers tightened around the blanket. "daddy?"

"Hey, Hoss, wake up. Time for dinner." Jim was about to warn his son to be careful but the boy instinctively rolled over slowly and gently. Smiling up at his father and following a nice, large yawn, he said matter-of-factly, "i took a nap."

"Yep, you did. So did daddy."

Jake tilted back his head to find his daddy grinning down at him.

"all better now, daddy? go home now?"

Blair kissed the tip of Jake's nose, gave his own little yawn and shook his head. "Fraid not, welp. Remember, I'll be staying here another day, but home on Wednesday."

Jake looked from one man to the other. His face screwed up into the famous "I don't like this one bit" look as he said grudgingly, "'kay. but i think the doctor is wrong."

Blair glanced up at his partner, one eyebrow arched. Jim shrugged, grinned, then reached his arms out as he said, "Come on, Hoss. You and I are heading down to the cafeteria. We'll grab us some dinner, bring it back up here, and eat with daddy, okay?"

"dinner? with daddy?" At Jim's nod, Jake obediently held out his arms.

Jim lifted him, careful not to disturb the bed or Blair's wound. As Jake settled in the crook of Jim's arm, he said, "i'm down with that!" Then glancing back at his father, he asked, "what do we bring you, daddy? grilled cheesy samwich?"

Ruffling the curls, Jim responded with, "We don't have to bring him anything back, he gets his dinner delivered. On a tray, no less. And if we hurry, we'll be back in time to join him."

"okay, but i want my dinner delivered too."

Blair gave a raspy little chuckle and pointed at the door. "Go. Bring back food. Bring back fattening food and if you choose wisely, you may eat off of my tray, Hoss."

Jake, into the game now, saluted and gave an expectant look at his other father. Jim understood the part he had to play, that of vehicle for his son, so with Jake-in-arms and directing his every move, he headed into the hall. With a smile, Blair relaxed, shifted uncomfortably and gave a thought to catching a few more z's before the two 'J's" returned.

(O)

Jake pointed one short finger at a mound of white-grey goo and asked, "and what's that?"

"Um, I haven't a clue. Maybe -- mashed potatoes?"

"ick. doesn't smell like mashed tatoes."

"No it doesn't," Blair agreed.

"what's that?"

"Um, peas?"

Jake shook his head firmly and said with the assuredness of youth, "no. green glue." With that, Jake took charge. He reached over, picked up the pretty pink lid that had been on top of his daddy's dinner and with a satisfied thunk, dropped it over the gruesome looking meal. He picked up his grilled bacon and cheese sandwich, looked at both halves, then handed over the larger portion as he stated firmly, "much better for you."

Jim grinned with undisguised glee and pride as Blair took the offered sandwich. With great solemnity, he said, "Thank you, son."

"your welcum."

All three agreed that Blair would be safe if he ate both the applesauce and the jello that had accompanied his mystery meal. Jake also decided that the hot, rather delicious smelling broth would be all right too, but first, he insisted on "taste-testing" everything before pronouncing them "eatable".

Blair was just finishing off the soup when one of the LVN's appeared. From her demeanor, it was clear that word had spread that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, there were absolutely no children in this particular hospital room. As she collected the tray and gave a knowing look at what Blair hadn't eaten, she said, "You look as though you could use some ice cream, Detective Sandburg. Three to be exact. Need to beef you up a bit. I'll be back in a few."

As she turned, a small voice that couldn't possibly be there, piped up with, "cho*cooo*- lot, please?"

As the nurse walked out, she mused, "I'm thinking -- chocolate." She wisely ignored the child-like giggles.

(O)

"He's sound asleep, Jim. You can get him home and in bed without waking him." Jim nodded and lifted Jake into his arms. As he started to move toward the door, Blair said, "Um, Jim? Wounded man here."

Smiling, Jim bent at the waist and dropped what started out as a chaste kiss on his partner's ready lips. In spite of the warm child-load in his arms, the kiss quickly escalated. When his back started to protest, Jim reluctantly pulled away and up.

"Some wounded man," he whispered.

"Hey, it ain't my lips that are injured, you know?"

"Thank you, God."

(O)

Jim pulled the blanket up around Jake's neck, dropped a kiss on the exposed cheek, then turned and headed out to the living room. Naomi had only one lamp on, but a fire crackled and popped in the fireplace. Jim took his usual spot at the end of the couch and sighed in relief.

"You must have taken Jake after he'd fallen asleep."

Naomi's voice sounded tinny in the large room and Jim didn't miss the undercurrent of fear. "Only way," he said. "I suspect we would have seen our first major tantrum if I'd tried to bring him home awake."

"No doubt," she said with a smile. With her eyes on the flames, Naomi added, "You have every right to be angry with me."

"I know, but I'm not."

Naomi blinked, then faced Jim. "You're not?"

"No."

"All right, if you're trying to pull a Gaslight on me, it's working."

The bark of laughter startled her almost as much as Jim's lack of anger. She was now completely unsettled.

Jim's chuckles died down and with a wave of his hand, he said, "I'm sorry, Naomi, but you said that in the same tone of voice that Sandburg used when he told me the same thing. He was certain I was playing head games with him. I guess I'm still amazed at how much alike you two can be. It's almost -- scary."

A small smile crept across Naomi's face. "Were you? Playing headgames with him?"

"Oh, yeah. He can be so easy, for all his intelligence."

The grin on Naomi's face widened. "I've noticed that about him -- on occasion." Gnawing on her bottom lip, Naomi glanced back at the fire, a question burning to get out.

Jim, seeing her need, said, "Naomi? Is there something else?"

"I really thought -- taking him, I mean, I know I had no right, but I really -- damn." She stood quickly and stepped almost angrily over to the fireplace. Picking up a log, she tossed it in and as the sparks flew up, she said, "I think I was trying to make a point, somewhere in all the excuses, for bringing him to the hospital."

"I know, Naomi."

Surprised, she whirled around to see Jim regarding her with that piercing look of his. The one that made her want to crawl into a hole and never come out. The one that stripped her bare of all agendas. With a shake of her head and a wry smile, she said, "I bet you get a lot of confessions, Jim."

"How'd you guess?"

Naomi ignored that as she said, more to herself than to Jim, "I think -- I'm okay with all this--"

"All 'this' being Blair as a cop as opposed to your son in a gay relationship, or suddenly with his own son?" Jim said with a grin.

Naomi walked swiftly to Jim and sank down beside him. She reached out a tentative hand and as he took it, she said softly, "I love you, Jim Ellison. And I love all that you've given to my son. You're the best thing that ever happened to him. I know that. And Jake? He's the best thing to happen to both of you. And to me. "I just wish I could explain my feelings about the cop thing, Jim, because that day, at the station, I was happy for him, so damned happy for him. I could see how thrilled he was when you threw that shield to him. His expression told me that at that moment, he was getting everything he wanted. Well, almost everything." She gave Jim's hand a squeeze with her last words.

With a deep breath, she went on, still trying to explain. "I saw his happiness, so why am I afraid? And obviously I don't mean just the thought of losing him. I've had almost four years now to deal with that fear. I'm afraid of losing him, Jim. Do you see?"

"More than you'll ever know, Naomi. More than you'll ever know. I worried about him every minute he was at the academy, and I worry every day that he'll lose that special something that is Blair Sandburg. I tried to shut him out, tried to protect him, to push him away -- but damn, Naomi, you created a stubborn man. He just would not go away.

"I learned that no matter what, no matter what was thrown at him or who hurt him, he remained -- Blair." Naomi nodded her understanding as she said, "Yes, I know that, up here," she tapped a finger to her temple, "But not here," she moved her hand to her chest, resting the palm over her breast. "I just can't feel it here, Jim. I'm so afraid that he'll become, I don't know, hard? Immune?"

"He won't, Naomi. He's learned to box up his feelings but keep them close. By the way, he taught me to do the same."

"Okay, you're going to have to explain that, Jim."

Jim rested his head back and tried to find the right words that would convey all that her son had taught him. Finally, "I -- used to tell him that if he was going to follow me around, he'd have leave a part of himself outside. I remember he called it, "checking your humanity at the door". Well, he didn't buy it for a second. But he did learn to put certain parts of himself safely away, then bring them back out when needed. And by watching him, I learned to do the same. I think I'm a better cop for it."

A sly grin started at the corners of Naomi's mouth. "So what you're saying is, police work hasn't changed Blair, but he's changed--"

"Police work?" At Naomi's delighted nod, Jim smiled. "Yep, I guess that's what I'm saying. He's a force to be reckoned with, all right. I almost feel sorry for the Cascade Police Department."

"It'll never be the same, will it?"

Grinning from ear to ear, Jim said proudly, "Nope."

They stared at each other for a moment, then broke out into laughter. As Naomi laughed, she fell forward and Jim caught her. He held her and together, they laughed even harder. "Oh -- God," she gasped out between bouts of the giggles. "How long before he has you all meditating?"

"Are you -- kidding?" Jim tried to breathe, to catch his breath, but he was laughing too hard. Somehow he managed to say, with tears streaming down his face, "He already has. Joel and Megan meditate, and who knows--"

"When -- I see Simon," Naomi's breath caught, she gulped, wiped her eyes and finished, "doing it and wearing -- an earring--"

"Aw God, did you have to give me that vision, woman?"

Their laughter exploded.

Jim stepped quietly over to the chair by Blair's bed and sat down. The room was dark, the only illumination courtesy of the corridor light outside. Blair still didn't have a roommate, which surprised Jim, but he was grateful. He reached over and took Blair's cool hand in his, then sat back to -- watch. As he took in his partner's face, he decided that Blairwatching was easy. Hell, he could do it forever. The only thing that topped it, Jim thought, was watching Blair when he was awake.

Pale blue eyes drifted away from the beloved face to focus on the heart monitor. What would he do if that spiked green line ever stopped -- for good? Jim's gaze flicked back to the sleeping man. "Lord," he whispered into the dark, "don't let me ever find out."

(O)

Blair felt pain. He tried to ignore it, but the damn thing persisted. He cracked open an eye and in spite of no glasses and the subsequent blurry world, he could tell he was in a hospital.

Oh, yeah, now he remembered. The pain was thanks to a bullet in his shoulder. Damn, he was thirsty. Blair turned his head and the first thing he saw was Jim. At least, he supposed it was Jim. Even blurry, the figure looked like him. Blair smiled like a dope. Then he remembered something else -- or rather -- someone else. Jake.

He'd been here, had dinner with him. Gave him half of his sandwich. And now? Oh, yeah, home. Damn, what time was it, anyway? Glasses. He really needed his glasses.

With his good hand, he searched the tray table and found them, undoubtedly thanks to Jim, who always thought of everything.

Blair slipped them on and the world, while remaining mostly dark, at least took on a sense of reality. The light from the hall gave him enough illumination to see all that he wanted to see, namely his water and Jim. Blair smiled tenderly at the sleeping man, who couldn't be comfortable. His long legs were stretched out in front of him and his head was propped up by his hand.

Blair wiggled a bit, maneuvered himself more to the right, punched clumsily at his pillow, then settled in to watch Jim sleep. The quiet of the halls outside his room told him that it had to be late and between shifts. He reached for his water, struggled with the straw, but finally took a long draught of the still cold liquid. There, that was better. Blair rested his head back as he slid the mug back onto the table.

Jim must really be dead to the world, Blair thought muzzily. But he'd probably sense Blair's awakened state soon enough. That meant that he didn't have long to indulge himself in watching the older man sleep. What never ceased to amaze Blair was how young Jim looked when he slept. The lines that spread out from his eyes and sometimes drew his mouth down, the wrinkles that represented his career, his past, and all those who'd hurt him over the years, smoothed out and disappeared when he slept. The haunting look that seemed to float behind those cool, blue orbs, was hidden now by the closed lids. Blair wondered if that look would ever completely disappear? If Jim would truly ever trust and let go? Sometimes, like now, in the dark quiet of those lonely hours after midnight, Blair hated every single person who'd ever hurt Jim. He hated William Ellison and Grace Ellison and Steven Ellison. He hated Lila and Veronica. He hated Laura and he hated Alan. And as often as not -- he hated himself. He was certainly not innocent of the crime of hurting Jim Ellison. Hell, no. The pain in his shoulder bit sharply and Blair winced. He wondered if he were due for a pain pill. He'd hate for a nurse to come in and possibly awaken his sleeping beauty. Blair grinned at that. His sleeping beauty. God, he was glad that he was the one in this bed. That he was the injured one and not Jim. Jim was so -- vulnerable -- when hurt. And stubborn. Blair was a damn nuisance when Jim was injured or sick, what with his worrying. Suddenly he gave an internal chuckle. Man, was that selfish or what? He was glad he was hurt? Because he didn't have to be the one worrying? Didn't want to see Jim hurting?

Oh, robber? Please shoot me, not the big lug next to me. Thank you. For crying out loud. But in truth, it was so much better when it was an injured Blair. Mustn't see Jim hurt -- mustn't. Can't -- lose -- Jim. Ever. Can't -- lose Jim.

(O)

"Hey, you're awake."

"Yep, and now, so are you."

The two men grinned at each other.

"So," Blair drawled out after a yawn, "don't you think you should get home? Jake will be spitting fire if he wakes up and finds that he's not here and you're not there."

Jim stretched his arms over his head and gave his own huge yawn. He missed the hungry eyes watching the sudden flash of white skin as his stomach was exposed. He brought his arms down and blearily checked his watch. It was a little after four. "I'm thinking you're right. Jake can be quite the disciplinarian, can't he?"

"Oh, yeah. When he wags that finger, you know you're a goner. And by the way? You're going to be useless at work today. Go home and sleep."

"Hey, no worries, to coin a certain exchange officer. The only thing facing me at work is some clean-up and writing the report. Right now, I'm thanking our lucky stars that we put in for Wednesday off."

"Not exactly how we imagined spending it, though. Guess I'll be forced to supervise your cooking efforts. Dear me." Blair gave an exaggerated sigh and tried to look crestfallen.

Jim didn't buy it. "You know, a truly gifted man such as yourself should be able to prepare quite a feast from his sick bed. I'm not worried in the least." Jim leaned forward and with a conspiratorial wink, added, "On the other hand, Naomi will be more than willing to cook."

"Man, you're smart. Our first -- vegetarian -- Thanksgiving. Tofu turkey, sprout stuffing, algae pudding? Oh, yeah, we let her do all the work and this will be a Thanksgiving you'll never forget." He glanced up at the ceiling and grinned as he added, "Of course, me, I'll get tongue."

Jim's eyes narrowed as he leaned in closer and rested his arms on the edge of the bed railing. "You want tongue, Sandburg? I'll give you tongue -- a tongue lashing. You will supervise my efforts or else," he warned.

Blair looked appropriately horrified as he said, "A tongue lashing? Not that, Jim. Anything but that."

"Have you ever been lashed by my tongue? You might find that you enjoy it, Chief."

"Why you -- scallywag."

One eyebrow arched. "Uh, Sandburg? Scallywag? Scallywag?"

"Hey, if the scally fits, wear it."

Jim leered at his partner. "I prefer the wag."

Blair rolled his eyes heavenward and groaned. "Get outta here, Ellison, before you corrupt my saintly self."

"Oh, yeah, like I haven't done that before."

Blair gave a snort, which Jim promptly interrupted with a kiss.

"New technique for mouth-to-mouth, gentlemen?"

Jim nearly flew back as the brusque voice broke into his exploration of Blair's mouth. Blushing, Jim faced the built-like-a-brick-house of a nurse.

"Uh--"

"Save it, young man. Shift change. Move it or lose it."

Blair tried to keep a straight face, and he might have succeeded if only Jim hadn't blushed again. And stammered.

"Yes -- we-ll, I'll b-be--"

Amid his chuckles, Blair said, "He's leaving, nurse. Say good-bye, Jim."

Head down, Jim started out -- but not before saying in a somewhat daring tone, "Good-bye, Jim."

Laughter followed him all the way down the hall, and thanks to being a god damned sentinel -- all the way to the truck.

(O)

Jake fumbled sleepily for his wolfpup, found it, clutched it close and started to roll over. Remembering that he had to be careful, he moved slowly only to find himself in his own bed. He bolted upright and threw off the covers, but before he could jump out of bed, Jim stepped in, both hands held up in a placating gesture.

"Yes, Jake, you're here, not at the hospital with daddy," he explained patiently and gently. "Daddy's fine and Naomi is going to take you over later today, okay? Then I'll join you both for dinner. How does that sound?"

The small boy froze, then frowned and wagged a finger at Jim. "you trickted me!"

Jim's expression softened as he moved to sit beside his son. Scratching the wolfpup behind the ear, Jim said quietly, "No, I didn't trick you, son. See, hospitals have something called 'shift changes'. When that happens, everyone has to leave because one set of nurses is going off-duty and another set is coming on. The new nurses have to check their patients, take their temperatures, blood pressure, and in some cases, like daddy's, take some blood--"

Jim got no further as Jake's expression turned from of rapt interest to horror. "they took blood? but -- but my daddy needs blood!"

Eyes began to pool with worried tears and Jim reacted quickly. He scooped the boy up and crooned, "It's okay, honey, honest. Daddy has plenty now. The doctors need a small sample because it helps them to know that he's getting better."

Somewhat mollified, Jake mumbled against Jim's warm and comforting sweater. "but i coulda stayed," he whined softly.

"No, Hoss, the nurses need everyone out when they make a shift change. You, me, everyone. Since you were sleeping so soundly and daddy was worried about Jakey, we both decided I should bring you home and tuck you into your own bed with scruffy here."

A hand wiggled under Jim's protective circle of arms, rooted around for the stuffed animal, then with head still buried, he waved it in front of Jim's face. "he's not scruffy and he's fine, jimmy. jakey ordered me to stay with daddy."

"Oh, he did, did he?"

Jake's head moved up and down against Jim's chest as a small voice answered, "yup!"

"Well, Jakey looked awfully glad to see you last night, Hoss."

"he did?"

"Yup."

"maybe i -- should take him with me? when we go to see daddy?"

Jim looked down at the curly blond hair and smiled. This kid was smart -- too smart. "Oh, I don't think that will be necessary, Jake. Daddy comes home tomorrow, so I think that you and Jakey can manage to sleep in your own bed tonight."

"do i have to?"

"I'm thinking -- yes. Daddy will feel better knowing that you're in your own bed, keeping me company."

"he will?"

"Yup."

"'kay. as long as it's just one more night, i guess i can sleep -- here."

Jim rested one finger under Jake's chin and lifted until he could see the worried face. "I'm very proud of you, Jake."

The boy's lower lip trembled and he immediately hid his face back in the comfort of Jim's chest. "i want daddy -- home."

"I know, honey, I know."

Slowly Jim rocked the small body in his arms, his hand cupping the back of Jake's head.

(O)

"Hey, anyone in here interested in French toast again? This time stuffed with bananas?"

Jim glanced up at Naomi, who stood in the doorway, a spatula in hand. She wore a long teal dressing gown and was smiling tenderly at the two of them.

"I knew I smelled something wonderful. Hoss, can you smell it too?"

Jake twisted in Jim's arms and peeked at Naomi from under slightly wet lashes. "i smell it. smells -- goooood."

"So are you two ready to eat? I know my French toast is more than willing to be eaten."

Jake sat up completely, and giving it more thought, said seriously, "i could eat brekkie. i could. but we have to save some for daddy, to take to him, 'kay?"

"As if we'd have it any other way? I made extra for that very reason. Now let's go eat, guys. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can get this show on the road."

Jim stood, Jake still in his arms, and followed Naomi through the apartment and into the kitchen. Jake was swung into his booster seat, Jim sliding in beside him. Naomi had already set the table and moments after Jim and Jake sat down, a plate loaded with stuffed French toast was slid in front of each of them. Naomi went back to the range, filled her own plate, then joined her grandson and for all intents and purposes, her son-in-law. "Naomi, this looks delicious."

"My prized recipe and one of Blair's favorites."

Jake already had a mouthful, but that didn't stop him from trying to speak. "mymrn famortim too!"

Naomi beamed as Jim added his pronouncement that it was now one his favorites as well.

(O)

"Okay, you have the directions to Maggie's and the park, right?"

"Got it, Jim."

"And you'll be heading to the hospital around one, right?"

"Should we synchronize our watches, sir?"

Before he could stop himself, he lifted his arm and glanced at his watch. Then with a sheepish grin, said, "You got me, Naomi."

"You're too easy, Jim."

"Maybe that's why Sandburg and I go so well together, eh?"

Naomi swatted Jim on the back of his head. "Go to work, Jim. Jake and I have things well in hand."

"Right. And speaking of Master Jake -- where is he?"

Naomi gave him an exasperated look and said, "Jim? Hello?"

Jim cleared his throat, saying, "Oh, yeah," he said sheepishly. He promptly focused in on his son. "Damn."

"Jim?"

"I'll be right back, Naomi. He's in our room."

(O)

Jim hurried down the hall. When he got to the bedroom, he entered carefully.

Jake, still in his pajamas, was curled up on Blair's side of the bed and wrapped up in Blair's old plaid robe.

For a moment, Jim couldn't move. Something was gripping his heart and making breathing difficult. As he stood watching, ideas swirled in and floated out again, arguments were made and excuses delivered. But all the mental discussions ended with one four year old whose first three years had been -- God only knew what -- and whose last few months had been filled with loss and change. Some days demanded extraordinary measures.

Jim walked to the bed, sat down on his side, and picked up the phone. He had two calls to make.

He punched in the first number and waited.

//Banks//

"Simon, it's Jim. I have a -- favor -- to ask."

The curled up mound didn't move, but Jim heard a sniffle.

//Jim, just come in long enough to get that report on my desk. I'm not expecting any more than that. By the way, I stopped by the hospital this morning and Blair's fine. He looked worried, but fine//

"Yeah, I've got the twin to that look next to me. That's why the favor. I'd like to bring Jake with me--"

//Bring him, Jim. If Rhonda can bring Carrie in and I can bring in Daryl, I think we can handle Jake. Besides, we'd love to see him. I'm sure we can keep him busy while you type laboriously. I'm betting that after thirty minutes, you'll be seriously wishing for Sandburg//

"Like I need typing a report to wish that, Simon?"

A deep chuckle could be heard by anyone choosing to listen.

//Bet you were wishing more last night, Ellison//

"That's a whole 'nother wishing, Simon. And Jake and I will be there in thirty. A certain wolfpup is still in his pj's."

The wolfpup in question was suddenly waved in the air as a small and muffled voice said, "can be dressed -- pronto."

Jim smiled, thanked Simon, then hung up. He turned and stretched out beside the still- covered mound that was his son. He waited until he heard another sniffle before gently taking the wrapped-up boy and cradling him in his arms.

"I'm thinking that when we get to the station, you should sit at daddy's desk. What do you think?"

"daddy's desk? can i?"

"Seems the perfect solution. His desk and chair are probably lonely too."

Two small arms crept up and encircled Jim's neck as a wet face settled against the older man's cheek. "luv you, jimmy."

"Love you too, Hoss. Love you so much."

(O)

"Jake, my man, I think I should make one more phone call before we get you ready for work, okay?"

Jake, still safely cuddled within the strength of Jim's arms, nodded.

"Don't you want to know who I'm calling?" Without lifting his head, Jake asked, "who?" Jim pretended to give the question great thought, then said, "Um, the hospital?"

The boy moved swiftly, almost standing in Jim's arms, bare feet planted on Jim's thighs. He brought his nose close to Jim's, and with wide eyes, asked, "we can call daddy? at the hospertal?"

Jim, grinning from ear to ear, nodded.

Jake did a nice swan dive around Jim's body and scrambled over to the nightstand and the phone. He lifted the receiver and held it out demandingly. "call, call, call--"

"You know, I think I'll call--" Laughing, Jim took the offered item, dialed, and when the operator answered, asked, "Room 112, please. Bed B." He waited for a few seconds, then the ringing of the phone and finally, Blair.

//Hello?//

"Hey."

//Morning. Missed you//

"Yeah, it's been how many hours?"

//Six//

"And you slept how many of those hours?"

//Five//

As both men chuckled, Jake decided there'd been enough chit-chat. He reached up and wiggled his fingers in front of his father's face.

"Um, I have this big problem, Chief, and I think only you can solve it."

//What's wrong?//

"I have this growth on my leg. It's wearing pajamas and it's tied the sleeves of your ratty plaid robe around its neck."

//Ah, yes. The Jakelump. Put it on//

"Will do. Here it is." Jim handed the phone over and Jake, settling on Jim's lap, immediately held the receiver up to his ear and started babbling.

"daddy, don't let the nurses take too much blood, 'kay? and nomi made stuffted french toast with 'namas and i had three pieces and jimmy is taking me to your desk and i getta sit in your chair and help him fill up papers and see unca simon and cherry will be soooooo mad cuz i got to sit in your chair and be a detektuve but not her and are you being good?"

The laughter at the other end of the line brought a huge grin to Jake's face. He glanced up at his other father, eyes bright and dancing. "daddy is laughing, can you hear him?"

"I can hear him, Jake."

When the noise of Blair's mirth died away, Jake, not skipping a beat, asked again, "well? are you? being good? you can't come home tomorrow unless you are. are you?"

//I'm being very good, Jake. Very, very, very good//

"what did you have for brekkie?"

//I only wish I'd had anything as good as you. I had oatmeal//

Jake shuddered and said, without removing his mouth from the phone, "jimmy, daddy had oatmeal for brekkie! won't he be happy when we get there?"

//Why will I be happy, Jake? Besides seeing you and Jim?//

"it's a secrut, daddy, but if you promuse not to tell--"

//I promise//

Jake put his hand over the phone and whispered, "we're bringing frenchy toasty!"

Jim tried, he honestly tried, but seeing his son hiding his secret from spying nurses by covering up the phone, well, he lost it. Judging by the sounds on the other end -- so had Blair. Again.

(O)

"Okay, step back and let me get a good look."

Jake obediently did as asked and waited.

"I believe we've found the perfect outfit for a junior one day only detective."

Jake glanced down at himself and nodded happily. His best jeans, a bit too long and gathering at the top of his sneakers, but still -- with his new belt -- perfect. Add his tucked in red, white, and black flannel shirt and he was pretty certain that he looked puurfect. "i'm ready."

"I agree. Lead the way, partner."

Jake gave a last longing look back at Jakey, who sat on his pillow, and with chin up, headed out of his bedroom.

In the living room, Naomi waited, a paper bag in one hand and two jackets in the other. "Okay, here's your daddy's French toast, Jake." As Jake carefully took the bag, she said to Jim, "I'll meet you at the hospital around one or so, all right?"

Helping Jake into his blue jacket with the hood, Jim nodded. Jake, juggling the bag as his father tried to slide a sleeve over it, smiled up at her and said, "i told daddy about our secrut, nomi! he can't wait!"

"Well, I'm expecting that between your visit and our French toast, Blair will be ready to come home tomorrow. And just between you and me, there might enough French toast for you and Jim too."

Jacket on now, Jake hugged the bag to him and said, "well -- only if daddy doesn't want it all--"

As Jim pulled the truck into the garage, he shot a sidelong glance at his son. Jake's head was swiveling around in almost every direction, eyes taking in all the police cars, motorcycles, and the large police vans. When two uniformed officers walked by and smiled as they saluted Jim, Jake's eyes gave the word 'round' a run for its money.

Jim swung into his parking stall and after shutting off the engine he turned to face Jake. "Well, we're here. You ready?"

"i'm very ready!"

Jim reached over and unhooked the boy from the car seat, grateful that Naomi had been kind enough to remove it from her rental and put it in the truck. And no, his masculinity was not in question, should anyone ask. He was smart enough to know damn well that only a woman was talented and intelligent enough to do such a thing well.

Once out of his seat, Jake scooted over so that as soon as Jim got out, he could stand on the seat. Brown bag in hand, arms outstretched, he waited patiently. Jim grinned and held out his arms. Giggling, Jake jumped and was neatly caught, then set down. As they started to walk toward the elevator, Jake's small hand crept into Jim's large one. It wasn't until he and Jake stepped out of the elevator that Jim realized what bringing Jake to the station could mean. He and Blair had only been a couple for a shade under a month and that fact was in no way common knowledge. Yet, here he was at the station, with Jake. As Jim stepped across the hall toward Major Crime, a few people smiled and asked about Blair, but no one seemed surprised to see Jim Ellison with a four year old in tow. Shaking his head, he walked into Major Crime.

For Jake, entering Major Crime was awesome. Hand tightly holding on to Jim's, he tried to see everything at once, to take it all in, eyes bright with excitement, mouth slightly open.

A large man spotted him and his face was nearly split in two by the huge grin that suddenly appeared. "Hey, Jake, my man, remember me? Henri Brown?"

The big man went down into a squat in front of Jake and gave the hood on the back of his jacket a tweak, then ruffled big fingers through Jake's curls. As Henri put up his right hand, palm facing Jake, Jake did the same and they high-fived each other. Seconds later, Jake was surrounded by cops. Jim quickly lifted the boy and set him down on the edge of Blair's desk,

Questions about Blair were asked and with legs dangling over the edge of the desk, Jake proudly answered that his daddy would be home tomorrow and that he and Jimmy were taking him "frenchy toasty" to make him even better.

Rhonda brought Jake a cup of hot chocolate and with an accepting nod from Jim, presented the boy with a coconut sprinkled donut. As Jake ate and slurped, he listened while the others quizzed Jim. Jake had started licking the small pieces of coconut off his donut when Simon entered from his office, a frown quickly replaced by a big grin as he spotted Jake.

"Jake, my main man. Glad you decided to drop by today and help Jim out."

White icing and flecks of coconut on and around his lips, Jake put down his cocoa and held out his arms as he said, "unca simon!"

The big man took him into his arms and gently wiped the sticky mouth with his fingers. "So," he said with a grin, "you gonna do Jim's paperwork for him today?"

"yup! we're gonna full them out, then go see daddy."

"Sounds like a plan to me. By the way, Daryl says he's really looking forward to seeing you on Thursday. He's bringing a couple of games that he thought you might be interested in playing."

"games? i play games reeeeeal goooood, unca simon."

"That's what I've heard and I know you play a mean game of poker."

"yup! but we have a problem, unca simon. jimmy says there are only two," Jake held up two fingers and wagged them in Simon's face, "drumsticks on a turkey. but tell daryl it's okay, i'm gonna give him mine, 'kay?"

Eyebrow arched, Simon looked at Jim over the top of Jake's head. Shrugging, Jim said, "Seems he's promised a drumstick to Naomi too. Three people, two drumsticks."

"Ah." Simon turned his attention back to Jake and lowering his voice, said,"I'm gonna let you in on a little secret; Daryl prefers the wings, so you and Naomi can munch away on the drumsticks to your hearts content."

"wings? he pre--pre -- furs, wings?"

"Yep. He'll probably eat both of them."

Jake wiggled his nose as he considered this new bit of information, then in all seriousness, said, "well, i'll still share my drummystick. daddy says they're reeeeeal big."

"I'm sure Daryl will appreciate that, Jake."

Jake gave Jim a very pointed look, then followed it up with another rather pointed look at the desk. He then cocked his head and waited.

"Um. I think I've just been silently ordered to work by my partner, the Jakemeister."

As Jake gave his father a firm nod, the gang of Major Crime started laughing. Jake was set down on Blair's chair, and Jim took his own seat amid shared winks and, "Go get 'em, Jake", and "You tell him, Hoss".

"Jake, I gotta tell ya, you're gonna make a great captain one day. Does Jim always do what you tell him?"

Without an ounce of guile, Jake shook his head and said, "nope. but he always does what daddy says."

There was complete silence in the squad room, a silence that lasted approximately one minute due to an explosion of raucous laughter.

"Jim," Simon gasped out between barks of laughter, "I always knew you were Blairwhipped."

"From day one, Simon, from day one."

Jake, not quite understanding why everyone was suddenly laughing, simply drank the rest of his hot chocolate and grinned happily.

(O)

Jim clicked on the print icon, then satisfied, sat back in his chair to await the copy. "Well, Jake, our work is almost done here. I'm going to take the report and give it to Simon in a moment, so while I'm gone, I need you to stay right here, okay?"

Jake lifted his head from his drawing and nodded. "kay, won't budge an inch. i'm making daddy a piccie an i'm almost done!"

"Excellent. I'll be back in a couple of minutes." Jim rose and after plucking the report out of the network printer, he knocked on Simon's door. When he heard the low "enter", he walked in.

Shutting the door behind him, he said, "One completed report, sir."

Simon checked his watch and grinned. "You really do miss Sandburg. That report took you over forty minutes. Sandburg would have knocked it out in twenty."

"Ah, but would it have had all the correct spellings, sir?"

"In a word - yes."

"Oh sure, he spells great, but his use of adjectives leaves a great deal to be desired, sir."

"Good point. Now get out of here." The words were said with a smile.

"Actually, Simon, do you -- um, have a minute?"

Frowning at the sudden speechlessness of his best friend, Simon immediately waved Jim to a seat. "What's wrong? Is it Blair?"

"No, not at all -- I mean, well, yes, in a way, Fuck. Look, I know that quite a few people are aware that my place was damaged, and that I'm staying with Sandburg, but other than a handful of friends here, it isn't common knowledge that we're -- a couple. I never gave it a thought when I decided to bring Jake with me, but now -- did I just do more harm than good?"

"More harm for whom, Jim? And what exactly are your worries here?"

"Blair. He's the answer to both questions. Sandburg went to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the rumors were put to rest. He moved out, stayed in the background, kept quiet, did his job. Then--"

"Then you two finally flag down the clue bus, purchase the appropriate transfers and you move in with him. So?"

"That's it, Simon? All you can say is 'so'?"

Simon leaned back in his chair and gave his detective the once over, his gaze both penetrating and quizzical. "Jim, what am I missing here? You and Sandburg have the full support of everyone in MC, and I mean everyone. There isn't a detective nor clerk who isn't aware of the situation between you and Sandburg, and they all understand why he's your partner." He pushed his chair back, stood, then walked slowly around his desk to take the seat next to Jim.

"I'm not saying there's total acceptance throughout the police department and yes, most personnel are woefully ignorant of the real situation, but you forget, Blair has earned the respect of most. Three minutes worth of a press conference couldn't completely wipe out three years of good work as your trusty sidekick."

"In essence, you're saying that my bringing Jake is a no harm, no foul act?"

"I'm saying, Jim, that life goes on and let's not let the small things bug us. Right now, bringing Jake into the station is a small thing -- and maybe a good thing. Gets folks used to the idea. Hell, by the time the Fourth of July picnic and fireworks roll around, bringing Jake will be no biggie. Now get out of here."

"You're a wise man, Simon Banks."

"That's why they pay me the big bucks, Ellison. Now scram."

As Jim stood and opened the door, he glanced back and said, "Is scram a word they taught you in Captain School, sir?"

"Ellison--"

"I'm gone."

(O)

Jake had been bubbly and excited all morning. He'd worked diligently at the picture for his father, chatted happily with Megan and Joel, traded jokes with Henri and Rafe, and had appeared completely confident about visiting his father. As a result, Jim was shocked when Jake clammed up the moment they entered the hospital. As they crossed the lobby and entered the south wing, Jake moved closer to Jim, his fingers tightening around the bigger man's. For once, he neither gazed right nor left, instead choosing to stare straight ahead.

"Jake, you all right?"

His answer was a slow nod. They continued down the hall until they reached Blair's room. Jim paused just outside the half-closed door and looked worriedly down at the curly head. A tug on his hand told him that Jake was impatient to see Blair, in spite of his sudden silence. Jim pushed the door open and let Jake precede him inside. The boy paused because a curtain around the bed hid Blair from view.

With a gasp, Jake whirled around and launched himself at Jim as he cried out, "daddy's gone, daddy's gone!"

Before Jim could answer, a hand pulled at the curtain and Blair asked, "Hey, Jake? What's up?"

Blond curls bobbing, Jake turned in Jim's arms to find the source of the voice. "daddy?" he asked, his own voice sounding so very small.

"Missed you, welp."

Jim, his son back in his arms, made it to the bedside in two long strides. Without comment, he quickly pulled the curtain the rest of the way aside and set Jake down beside his father.

"i -- you--" Hanging his head, Jake was finally able to say, "i couldn't see you, daddy."

"Wow, that sounds serious, Hoss. Can you see me now?"

Suddenly shy, Jake peeked out from under long lashes, then nodded. "i can see you good now."

"Can you see all three of my heads, or just one?"

A grin twitched at the corner of Jake's mouth. "just one."

"Good. I've been working on hiding the other two from the nurses. They get so touchy when their patients have more than one head. I mean, which ear do they stick the thermometer in, you know?"

Jake giggled and Blair held out his good hand. The boy moved slowly over, took it and immediately settled into Blair's good side. Carefully, Blair leaned forward and dropped a kiss on Jake's temple. "Sorry 'bout the curtain, Hoss. Don't tell anyone, but I was taking a nap."

"a nap? like me?"

"Yep. Just like you."

"does that mean you are being espeshully good?"

"I'd say so. The doctor was here earlier and it's official, I can go home sometime around noon tomorrow."

Jake glanced at his other father and ordered, "jimmy, give daddy the frenchy toasty! it'll make him aaaallll better!"

Pulling up the chair, Jim sat down and handed over the bag. Taking it, Jake unfolded the top and reached inside. He pulled out the foil wrapped goody and waved it in front of his daddy's nose. "can you smell it, daddy?"

"I can. And if you don't hand it over instead of teasing me, I may not be able to control myself. You could end up," Blair scrunched up his face and lowering his voice, said, "minus a couple of -- fingers."

Giggling, Jake handed off the package as if it were on fire. But when he saw his father struggling one-handed, he immediately gave a small clucking noise and took over. A moment later, the golden brown French toast was being forked very carefully into Blair's waiting mouth.

"i feed you good, don't i, daddy?"

"You feed me the bestest, Jake. The bestest."

With a happy nod, Jake went on parceling out bits of the delectable breakfast concoction, Jim watching lovingly.

(O)

"I swear, he falls asleep at the drop of a hat."

"Well, ye-ah. He's four."

"Sandburg, I was talking about Ellison."

"Oh, yeah. Him too." Then with a smile, Blair added, "They look cute, don't they?"

Simon huffed quietly as he gazed down at Jim Ellison, who was stretched out in the hospital chair, one arm inside the railing, a hand resting on Jake's shoulder. Jake was curled into Blair's side, and like his father, was sound asleep. "Cute, Sandburg? Well, I'll give you Jake, but Jim? Hell, even in sleep, he's stoic."

Blair chuckled at that then looked fondly at his partner. "To me, he looks about ten."

"Yeah, well, sure. You're in love."

At those words, Blair glanced quickly over at his boss. The large man's dark face only revealed humor as he continued to watch the two sleeping figures. Simon's verbal acknowledgment of their feelings for each other surprised the hell out of Sandburg. He was pretty damn sure this was the first time Simon had actually said it out loud. Not that Blair didn't know that Simon accepted the fact that two of his male detectives were a couple, he did. But this, this "you're in love", seemed to say so much more by putting the Ellison-Sandburg relationship into the realm of normal.

But Blair also knew that while Simon was seeing the love between him and Jim as being normal, the rest of the world most certainly did not. As a couple, the two of them were considered by most to be abnormal, even perverted. Sandburg ran a finger along Jim's hand, then with the back of his knuckle, he brushed Jake's soft cheek. Perverted? Abnormal? Not hardly.

"Look, I'm heading back to the station. Time and criminals wait for no man, even if the Sentinel of the Great City, and his cop guide who still hasn't learned to duck, can't be on the streets. Tell Sleeping Beauty over there that I'll see you guys on Thursday. Daryl is making something, but God only knows what."

"He's making a sweet potato casserole. His girlfriend's recipe."

Simon tilted his head and regarded Blair with a slightly disbelieving expression. "How do you do that? How do you always know these things?"

"What can I say? The Great Sandburg sees all, knows all.

"The Great Sandburg, Bullshitter Supremo and Non-Stop Talker of the World sees all."

"I could have said that, but you hate it when I obfuscate."

Simon, in full appreciation of the fact that he'd never win a battle of verbiage with The Great Sandburg, rolled his eyes and grabbed his coat. "I'm outta here, Sandburg. You confuse me and that's not good for a police captain, you know?"

Blair nodded seriously, then with eyes twinkling, exchanged a knowing smile with his boss and friend. "Jim'll be sorry he slept through your visit, Simon."

"No, I won't."

Both Simon and Blair turned to see one pale blue eye cracked open and staring at them.

As he walked out the door, Simon sighed heavily and muttered something about Ellison having the wrong idea about hospital visits. The patient was supposed to sleep, not the visitor.

Grinning from ear to ear, Jim sat up, yawned and asked, "Why do I always sleep so well in hospitals?"

"Actually, Jim, I have a theory about that--"

"Why am I not surprised?"

Blair flipped him off, then asked, "Do you want to hear this or not?"

"Like I have a choice? I value our bedtime together."

Blair smirked, then said, "See, it's like this; you can sleep because you know I'm not going to get up and leave." Both eyebrows arched, Blair waited.

Jim's mouth opened, carp-like, then shut, then opened again. Finally-- "Sandburg, that makes it sound as if I'm glad--"

"Don't be silly, Jim. It's simply a psychological thing. Subconscious, you know? It has nothing to do with my being hurt and everything to do with the fact that somehow, on some level, you know that while I'm in this bed, I can't leave you."

"You could especially leave me while lying in a hospital bed. And should we be having this conversation with Jake sound asleep in said bed?"

"Is he awake?"

"No."

"There you go. And in case you're interested, I'm never leaving you. Never. Try to leave me, and you'll find yourself in a hospital bed so fast, it'll make your head spin."

Jim rested his cheek on his hand and regarded his partner. Blair stared back. Slowly, Jim grinned. A wide, beautiful, soul-deep grin. "I probably need to hear that more often than most."

"Nah, not you," Blair scoffed.

Jim's hand crept over to Blair's and gently took three fingers. The two men held hands and watched Jake sleep.

(O)

"but i should go with you, jimmy."

"I know you want to, Hoss, but we have to be very careful with daddy. I need to be focused when I get him into the truck, then inside here, see?"

The Jakepout made itself known. The Jakepout was not the typical calculated pout whose sole purpose was to gain something like a toy. The Jakepout was serious business and usually a precursor to anger and - or - tears. Jim squatted next to him and put both hands on Jake's shoulders. Looking him squarely in the eyes, he said, "Son, I know you want to go, but it really is better if you wait here. You can greet daddy when he walks in though. Maybe you could even draw him a welcome home sign that Naomi can help you create?"

"a welcome home - sign?"

"Yep. And daddy and I trust only you to get the bedroom ready and his pillows all fluffed up. He'll need his blanket turned down and cold water by the nightstand for his medications too."

"and his slippers and robe?"

"Definitely. And you can help Naomi get a fire going so everything is comfortable and cozy."

"i can do that. and i'll be all clean and in my jammies and we'll have chicken soup cuz cherry says chicky soup is goooood for you when you're sick and i'll get the crackers with daddy's peanut butter ready too."

Jim held out his hand and Jake slid his into the larger one and they shook.

"Okay then. I'm off to bring our patient home, Jake."

Jim rose and Jake stepped back and rested against Naomi's leg while Jim slipped into his jacket and grabbed his keys. With a quick kiss delivered to the top of Jake's head and a mouthed 'thank-you' to Naomi, he headed to the hospital.

(O)

"Aw, man, I hate this. What time is it?"

Dressed in black sweats with a black sweat jacket thrown over his shoulders, Blair sat impatiently on the edge of his bed. His arm was in a purple sling. A sling that had solicited a spontaneous and booming laugh from Jim upon entering Blair's room.

"It's after one. Three minutes after. Or one minute later than the last time you inquired. And are you sure they only had a purple sling left?"

"No, Jim, I was lying. I'm a closet purple junkie and threw a tantrum until they brought this up from the Pediatric wing. Asshole."

"I knew that."

Jim started whistling. Blair threw him a killer glare and Jim whistled louder.

"You're deliberately trying to annoy me, aren't you?"

"Yep. Someone's gotta do it. And trying? I thought I was succeeding admirably."

"Asshole."

"You said that already. You're a walking Thesaurus all ready. Come up with something better."

"I'm too miserable."

"Ah, come on, Chief, you can do it."

Blair scratched at his lips, more to hide the impending grin than because he actually had an itch. Finally he said somewhat petulantly, "Pakeha."

Jim blinked, then frowned. "Pakeha?"

"Yep. You're a Pakeha."

"And this is a derogatory term at least equal to asshole?"

"Um -- sure."

"Huh-uh. Why do I think you just made that up, Sandburg? Which, by the way, is beneath you."

"I did not make it up. It's a term you'd hear in New Zealand. It's Kiwi."

"Did you just call me a fruit?"

The chuckle threatened Blair's bad mood. He bit it back and said, "The word Pakeha is Kiwi. As in Kiwi, a New Zealander, hence -- Kiwi, his or her language."

"As in the fruit. You called me a fruit, Sandburg."

"You're mixing up the kiwifruit with Kiwi and make sure you don't mix up the Kiwi bird with Kiwi, a New Zealander."

"Or Pakeha, which is Kiwi for a non-Maori."

"Jim, I hate you."

"Yeah, you hate all assholes and Pakehas."

"What time is it?"

"It is now five minutes after one. It took us two minutes to determine that you're losing your ability to be an effective Thesaurus and for you to learn that I know what Pakeha means."

"Putz."

"No points for originality."

"Derago."

"You made that up."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"I don't feel so good, Jim."

Jim was up instantly and seconds later was helping Blair to rest back against the headboard. With tender care, he lifted Blair's legs up and around, then covered him. "Where the fuck is that doctor?" Jim hissed out.

Blair rolled his eyes. Almost two hours ago, he'd been full of nervous energy, eager to bust out of his hospital prison. Now he was exhausted and impatient -- and where exactly had Jim's anger been a few minutes ago, anyway? Jim stomped to the door and stepped angrily into the hall. An unlucky nurse walked by and Jim snagged her. "Look, we've been waiting since eleven for Doctor Evans to release my partner. Can you page him, please?"

"Doctor Evans? I'll try, sir."

The woman turned around and headed back for the nurses station and Jim walked back to Blair's bed. "Maybe we'll get some action now, Chief."

"Oh, I don't think so, Jim. I don't think I'll be up for much more than a kiss or two for a few more days yet."

"You twit."

"Any questions, Detective Sandburg?"

"Yes. Can I go home now?"

Smiling, Doctor Evans nodded. "You may, and sorry about the mix-up. Doctor Stewart thought I was releasing you and I thought he was. Needless to say that meant that no one released you."

"No problem, Doc," Jim said as he helped Blair into the wheelchair. "At least you're here now and we're on our way. Prescriptions and all."

"Yes, well -- uh, Detective Sandburg?"

The male nurse who'd been about to push the wheelchair out the door stopped then turned the chair back around as Blair said, "Yes, Doctor?"

"About that sling? It's -- purple."

Jim flicked two fingers at the back of Blair's head and said, "He's a closet purple junkie."

The doctor frowned. "Oh. I see. Well, then."

"Yes, and he'll be seeing his regular doctor on Monday, as ordered."

"Good, good, but it appears that Detective Sandburg is out of the purple-closet."

The chair was swiveled around again and a laughing Jim threw over his shoulder, "Ssh, don't tell him that."

(O)

"So are we waiting for Christmas, or what?"

"I'm ready, let's go."

But Jim wasn't listening. Blair frowned, then repeated, "Jim? I'm ready--"

Pointing at their building, Jim said with a grin, "Look."

Blair followed Jim's arm and spotted Jake. Even without sentinel vision, he could see the small shadow as it paced back and forth across the courtyard.

"Aw, God."

"He's something else, Chief. Look at him marching up and down, back and forth, waiting and watching."

"We'd better get in there then."

Jim jumped out of the truck and hurried around to Blair's side. He opened the door and helped the younger man out. As Blair winced, Jim was very glad he'd decided to park in front of the Anjasmayo. It was a double blessing since Blair had also eschewed the use of a wheelchair.

As soon as they stepped over to the sidewalk, Jake spotted them. His eyes popped wide as he paused in his 'watchman' duties. His hand went to his mouth, then he bolted -- for the apartment. As Jim and Blair made their slow way into the lobby, they heard the door slamming shut. Jim cocked his head, then said, "He's getting everything ready for you."

Blair found that he couldn't speak. They continued into the lovely courtyard and as Jim paused, allowing Blair to rest, the younger man found his gaze moving to his right -- to the still-empty apartment that had been Karen's, and until a few weeks ago, Jake's, home. His eyes closed and he squeezed back the sudden burning moisture.

As they reached their front stoop, Jim pulled open the screen door, turned the knob and pushed. The door swung open and he helped Blair inside.

(O)

Jake marched and marched. Any minute now.

His daddy and Jim should be home any second. Any. Second. He stopped, turned, ran back to his front door, shoved it open and stuck his head inside. "nomi? nomi, is it time yet?"

Naomi came out of the kitchen, crossed into the living room and as she wiped her hands, said, "It's after one, Jake. They should be here any time now."

"you sure, nomi? you ab-so-lut-leeeeeey sure?"

"Absolutely, positively certain."

"'kay." The door shut and Naomi could hear Jake running back to his post. Sighing fondly, she went back to fixing home made chicken soup, per Jake's instructions.

After all, wasn't chicken soup a rule?

(O)

Jake heard something. He paused, cocked his head, then peered around the large tree. Daddy.

Daddy was home. Jake held his breath, then with a whoosh of air, raced back home, barreled through the front door and yelled, "nomi! nomi! daddy's here, daddy's here. where's the--"

"Right here, honey. The sign's right here." She picked up the long poster and allowed Jake to push her back so that she faced the door. He pulled at her jeans and she obligingly went down on one knee, as they'd rehearsed. He stepped behind the poster and put his right hand on his end and his left hand on the top.

"'kay, you 'member what to say, nomi? when daddy walks in?"

"I remember, Jake," she assured him.

He nodded happily while they waited -- and as they waited, Jake bounced, eyes fastened on the front door in anticipation. First they heard the screen door open -- then the front door opened--

(O)

Jim helped Blair inside and as he shut the door behind them, two voices rang out, "WELCOME HOME, DADDY!"

Both men smiled as they spotted Jake and Naomi on the other side of the couch, a huge banner stretched out between them. A banner that proclaimed, in a mixture of adult and childish printing, the same sentiment that had been yelled out as they'd entered.

Eyes shining, Jim looked down at his partner and whispered, "Welcome home, daddy-o."

(O)

Jake sat cross-legged on the bed, his knee touching his father's. Blair sat with his back to the headboard, head resting on several fluffed up pillows. He had a tray of food across his lap, and was currently watching Jake spread peanut butter on a cracker, a task he was taking very seriously. The boy was spreading slowly and making every attempt to achieve perfection. When he was certain that every single centimeter of the cracker had been covered, he looked up, smiled and held out his precious offering.

"here. you need to eat peanut butter, daddy, it's gooooood for you."

Blair took the cracker, waved it under his nose, took a big whiff, closed his eyes, and sighed contentedly. He took an experimental bite, chewed, swallowed, then said, "Puuuuurfect, Jake. Just the right amount of peanut butter, not too thick or thin, but the bestest combination. Thank you."

"welcum." Jake plucked up another cracker and started smearing.

Jim, who lay stretched out next to his convalescing partner, watched with detective-like fascination as Jake began the spreading process again. With a grin, he said to his mate, "A boy after my own heart."

"Yep. A perfectionist."

They both chuckled until a voice from the big easy chair by the window spoke up. "You were just as precise when you were his age, Blair, dear."

Both men glanced over at the woman speaking and Jim, pleased to discover that he wasn't the only anal jerk in the house, tweaked an errant curl brushing Blair's jaw. "Ha! So there, Sandburg."

"Jim, Jim, Jim. I was a scientist in the making. Of course I was precise. You, on the other hand, are simply anal."

Jake, who hadn't really been listening, now looked up as he heard a word that was unfamiliar to him. "a-n-ul?"

As a very unlady-like snort was heard from the easy chair, Jim managed to find his bologna sandwich suddenly very interesting. Which left Blair to explain the word to the waiting boy.

"Um, remember when Jimmy was washing your blackboard?"

Jake scrunched up his face, then smiled. "yup! It took him fooooorever and all he had to do was wash it, daddy."

"Yes, well, that's -- anal. Do you remember how clean your board was after Jim was done?"

"bery clean. the bestest clean. i could see myself in my blackboard."

Jim crossed his arms over his chest and tried not to look smug.

"so," Jake worked out, "a-nul -- is good. my jimmy is good."

"Yep, your Jimmy is very good," Blair wisely affirmed even as he poked a lethal elbow into Jim's vulnerable side.

Jake, now that anal was settled, handed over another cracker, got to his knees and took the spoon out of the bowl of soup. After Blair finished his cracker, Jake dipped the spoon in and carefully guided it, with both hands, to his father's mouth. Blair opened and in the spoon went.

"Hey, Naomi, it's rough being a cop, isn't it?" Jim asked as Jake fed his father another spoonful of chicken soup.

"I've noticed."

Upon arriving home and complimenting Jake on his welcome home sign, everyone had moved into the master bedroom. Working together, they'd put the injured man to bed. Jake had then crawled up and made himself at home while Jim and Naomi went into the kitchen to put the meal together. Bologna sandwiches for Jim, Jake and Naomi, chicken soup and crackers with peanut butter for Blair. Jim had carried one tray, Naomi the other, and an impromptu picnic followed.

Now with legs curled under her and an open book on the arm of the chair, Naomi watched Jake with her son. The smile transforming her face was mirrored in her eyes. Blair looked good, she thought. Tired, but good. The pallor was still there, but in retreat and she knew that while he was in pain, he was also dealing.

Deciding that Blair could use a nap, she said, "Oh, guys? And by guys, I mean you, Jim and you, Jake. We have a few things to do in order to get ready for tomorrow. Why don't we let Blair sleep a bit while we do our cooking and baking?"

Jim sat up and pretending to have forgotten, gave Jake a look of exaggerated, wide-eyed panic. "Jake, my main man, did you forget that you have to cook the turkey today?"

Jake slapped a hand over his mouth, then mumbled, "ohm, nom!"

"Oh, yes. We'd best get cracking, my fine fellow chef. You ready?"

Jake glanced over at his daddy, who managed a yawn, followed by a nod and a grin.

"i'm ready, jimmy! but, but -- don't we cook the turkey tomorrow?"

Jim looked over at Naomi, who in turn gazed at her son, who rolled his eyes and asked, "How did I become the turkey expert, eh?"

"Well, sweetie, you were the one who did the cooking when we celebrated Thanksgiving that one year in Taos. And again when you were fourteen and we were in Austin, Texas, remember? I do a mean tongue and plenty of vegetarian dishes, but turkey is a bit out of my league."

Blair snorted, then addressed his son's question. "Yep, we cook the turkey tomorrow and we cook it very early. Tonight though, you guys need to get the vegetables, the sweet potato casserole, and the pies ready. That way all we have to do in the morning is prep the bird and stuff the heck out of it."

Jim picked up the baton as Blair passed it to him with a look. "And we can even set the table tonight, Hoss. That way we can really enjoy tomorrow. Instead of fussing, we can do the really important things -- like watch football."

"Don't forget the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade," Naomi added.

Jake nodded enthusiastically and agreed. "yup! gotta watch the puuurade! it's a -- a--" He struggled with the word and finally said, "a trerdishun!"

"Absolutely," Jim affirmed. "It's a tradition."

Careful not to jiggle his injured partner, Jim got up and after giving his daddy a kiss, Jake scrambled just as carefully off the bed to join his father. Once on the floor, he pulled the blanket up around Blair's chest. "daddy, do you want jakey to keep you company while me and jimmy cook?"

Blair felt his throat constrict as he gazed down at his little miniature man. Grinning, he answered, "You know, Jakey would be just the ticket, Hoss."

"okey-dokey. be right back!"

With that, he raced out of the room and all three adults could hear the thumping of his socks as he ran down the hall. They heard the pause as he slid next to his bed and they could envision the scene as the little boy picked up the stuffed wolf. The pounding of the small-socked feet followed and a moment later he ran back into the bedroom, Jakey held aloft in his hands.

The animal was placed in Blair's arms as Jake proclaimed, "here he is, daddy! he'll keep you nice and warm and take care of you while we work."

"Thank you, Jake. Jakey is a good pupper, he'll take good care of me."

Nodding in satisfaction, Jake followed his grandmother out of the room. As they disappeared into the hall, Jim picked up Blair's prescription bottle and shook out two pills. With a glass of water from the nightstand, he handed them over. Blair took them gratefully and after swallowing and washing them down with the cold liquid, he dropped his head back and closed his eyes. "He's pretty terrific, isn't he, Jim?"

"Yeah, Chief, he is. You sleep and let us take care of everything."

"Game on tonight."

"Sleep, Blair."

"I could do that."

Jim leaned over and before picking up the remaining tray, he kissed the already slack lips.

(O)

"All right. Here's how this works: I'll break the eggs in and you stir, okay, Hoss?"

"got it. i'm ready."

Jim was sitting at the kitchen table, a cookbook open in front of him, the table littered with spice jars, an empty can of pumpkin, and two open cans of condensed milk. He took one egg, cracked it against the bowl and watched as it slid in. On his knees at the table, Jake immediately took up the wooden spoon and began to stir vigorously with both hands. When the egg had disappeared, Jim added another and watched as Jake did more stirring. After the third egg, Jim handed over one can of milk and watched as Jake happily dumped it in and did more stirring.

As the two men prepared the pies, Naomi worked on the relish tray, the two salads, one a fruity jello salad especially for Jake, and the other, a wild rice salad with a fruit dressing. She also prepared the carrots and mushrooms so they'd be ready for sauting in the butter and wine sauce the next day. Soft music played in the background, and as Naomi glanced around, she felt something odd. She felt -- at home, and as though she suddenly belonged. She'd never, in all her forty-seven years, experienced such a feeling. Not with any man, nor relatives. No state or country had ever felt as welcoming as this apartment.

In all her years of travel, the only time she'd ever felt connected had been those rare occasions when Blair had accompanied her. Together, they'd always been a home no matter where they were. But this, what she was feeling now and at the loft, was entirely different. This was Home with a capital H.

Home.

As she gazed fondly over at the kitchen table, she further realized that right now, today, and certainly tomorrow, they were setting up new traditions for the future. She smiled ruefully at that, and made a quick amendment; Blair getting shot was definitely not going to be a tradition for future Thanksgivings.

With that thought, she put down the knife, wiped off her hands, and leaving Jim and Jake to finish the pies, she headed for Blair. Neither Jim nor Jake gave her any notice, both too intent on making autumn leaves out of pastry. She walked through the dining room, pausing to gaze at the table, already set for tomorrow. She was surprised that between Jim and Blair, they had all the necessary items. Crystal goblets (Jim's, left over from his marriage) adorned each place setting, and sterling silverware (Blair's, thanks to Grandmother Sandburg) sat next to the holiday china (also Jim's and the only thing of his mother's that he possessed). The tablecloth, a fall-themed beauty, had been her contribution, purchased yesterday before going to the hospital. As Naomi looked at the centerpiece, pride filled her heart. The centerpiece was courtesy of Jake and was basically a huge cardboard cut-out of a turkey wearing a pilgrim hat. It had been hand-colored by small four-year old fingers. Autumn leaves found by Jake yesterday surrounded the cut-out, as well as bright tiny orange pumpkins and other seasonal gourds.

Naomi sighed contentedly, then moved into the living room.

A crackling blaze in the fireplace and the long shadows that fell across the wooden floor from the open windows said Home and Thanksgiving as much as anything behind her. The room was almost a living thing, made up of the two men who lived here.

Naomi made another quick amendment because in the bookcases sat books that belonged to Jake. In addition, brightly colored pillows adorned with pictures of dinosaurs and jungle animals sat on the floor next to Monopoly and Shoots and Ladders. By the front door, a pair of bright red rain boots stood next to two pairs of larger black boots. On the coat tree, a small hooded fur-lined jacket hung beside two larger jackets. Blair may have initially put this room together, but now it was a warm safe haven as created by three people. The whole apartment was a blending of Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, and Jacob Michael Porter. Naomi moved on, and as she passed the couch, she let her finger trail along the top edge of the colorful native afghan she'd given Blair over ten years ago. Okay, maybe there was a bit of her as well.

(O)

Naomi stepped inside the room and tiptoed to the bedside. Blair was asleep, his breathing easy. She brushed loving fingers over his forehead, as much to touch as to check for fever. His skin was cool. Naomi wanted to sit beside him, to hold his hand, but she was afraid she'd wake him. She contented herself with just watching for a few uninterrupted moments.

As her gaze traveled over his face, she took in the changes in her son. The boyishness seemed gone, even in innocent sleep. But what remained in its stead was somehow -- more. Maturity had taken its place beside a natural wisdom that Blair had always possessed. She wondered if the three and a half years spent in Jim Ellison's world had done this, or just a natural maturing? Or maybe -- maybe it was three years of caring so diligently for another human being? Taking responsibility for, and loving, someone like Jim?

As Naomi watched her son sleep, as she took in the beautiful face, so peaceful in repose, she tried to grasp how different his life was as compared to his youthful dreams. She remembered a summer evening on the lawn of friends in Louisiana. Blair had just turned thirteen and was fiddling with his Swiss Army knife. The Bar Mitzvah had been two days earlier. She remembered coming out and plopping down on the lawn beside him. He'd moved so that his head rested in her lap and as she'd run her fingers through his short curls, she'd asked, "What are you thinking, Blair?"

He'd turned to look up at her and even in the darkness, she'd seen his smile. "I'm thinking that I want to see the whole world, Mom. Every country, every ocean, every sea and river. I want to understand us."

"That could be the undertaking of a lifetime, honey."

"Yep. But I have a lifetime. I want to study us, Mom. Find out what makes us tick, you know? I want to go to Africa again, but this time, I want to stay with different tribes and learn their cultures, see? And South America and Asia and right here, in the United States. Our own native Americans and the Eskimos, and--"

"Sounds like you've picked out a career, honey."

"Yep. I'm gonna be an anthropologist, Mom."

She hadn't been surprised. Nor had his desire to travel the world been a shock. After all, wasn't that the childhood she'd given him? The gift of the world?

Naomi frowned as she ran a finger down one strong arm. So what had happened to those childhood dreams?

"Hey, Mom--"

Startled, Naomi almost gasped as she blinked and found herself looking into Blair's eyes. "Honey, I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

Blair shook his head and grinned. After a nice yawn, he asked, "I hope you didn't leave Jim and Jake alone in the kitchen?"

"Oh, dear, I'm afraid I did. Should I--"

Chuckling, Blair shifted a bit and reached for the water. Naomi beat him to it and handed it to him. Before taking a sip, he said, "I was just pulling your leg, Mom. Jim is even more efficient in a kitchen than I am. Way more organized and clean too."

Smiling, she watched him drink and when he was done, asked, "I've often wondered how you got along with someone who was actually neat. You had to drive each other crazy."

"Hey, I'm neat."

Naomi patted her son's arm and said comfortingly, "Yes, dear, of course you are."

"Aw, Mom. I am."

"Now."

"Well, yeah, now. Guess a little of Jim rubbed off, eh?"

"I'd say so. And what of you rubbed off on him?"

"The only thing of me that rubs off on Jim is my hair--" They both chuckled, but Naomi found herself needing to ask Blair about his life now, compared to the life he'd planned, and up until a few years ago, had led. But -- she didn't know where to start, or how to ask--

"Things are pretty different now, aren't they, Mom?"

Naomi shook her head in resignation. Blair had always managed to tap into her worries, even when he didn't realize it. She should have known that he'd lead this discussion.

"Yes, they are. In fact, I was just remembering a conversation you and I had not long after your Bar Mitzvah. In Louisiana, remember?"

At the puzzled look on his face, she added, "We were on the grass, outside of Ted and Julie's house, in Shreveport, remember? You shared your dream of becoming an anthropologist for the first time."

Blair's face cleared with the memory and he gave her that little half-grin she loved so much. "Oh, yeah, I remember. Did you know that Ted offered me a -- um, never mind."

Narrowing her eyes suspiciously, Naomi said quietly, "Don't even think of dangling something like that in front of your mother. Offered you what?"

Blair almost cringed as he waved his right hand aimlessly in the air. "Nothing, really, Mom. And what about that night?"

"Don't you dare try to misdirect me, young man. What. Did. He. Offer. You?"

The burst of laughter from Blair surprised her. She tried to keep the scowl on her face, but with Blair's laughter, it was impossible. "All right, what's so funny?"

"You," he gasped out. "You sound just like me with Jake. You sounded just like a--"

"Parent?" she offered.

"Yeah, like a parent--"

"Last time I looked, Blair Sandburg. I was a parent. Your parent, by the way."

"Oops."

"I guess I wasn't exactly the mother type, was I, Blair?"

"Sure you were, Mom. But you were also my friend."

"Friend when I should have been a mother. I guess I was trying so hard not to be my parents that I settled for the "My mom's my best pal" route. Of course, that means that now, I've given up my right to tell you what to do," she said with a grin.

"Mom, I hate to break it to you, but I don't think you ever told me what to do."

Naomi thought about it a moment, then grinned like a schoolgirl. "No, I guess I never did. I always kind of--"

"Suggested. You had very creative methods for getting me to do things like eating my vegetables or going to bed early."

"Hey, I had to be creative with you. You could out think me." Sitting down carefully next to her son and taking his hand, Naomi added, "You were a terrific child, Blair. I didn't really have to be parental, which isn't to say that you couldn't be a holy terror, you could, but--"

"But you always found ways to counteract the Blairmonster."

She grinned again and nodded. Letting her gaze drift down to their entwined fingers, Naomi decided it was time to go back to their original topic of conversation. "Honey, I know we talked about you and Jim, and being his partner and all, and I understand, I really do. I just can't help but wonder how your life today compares with your dreams of seeing the world and studying mankind."

"It doesn't, Mom. It doesn't. Trying to compare what I planned as a child and a teenager to what has actually happened, well, it's like apples and oranges. Both fruits, but totally different." Blair glanced out the bedroom window and onto the darkening landscape. His face took on a faraway expression and his eyes darkened in thought as he mused out loud, "I think that at some point I decided it would be better live life rather than observe it." The pensive look gave way to a smile as he turned back to her. He gave her hand a squeeze and added, "Some scientists can do both, Mom. But not me. I found that I tended to throw myself into whatever I was studying and that's not good, you know?"

"I think I understand, sweetie. After all, you certainly threw yourself into Jim's life. I think it's possible those early years were laying the groundwork for the time when you finally found your sentinel. Maybe this is what you've been training for all along. Does that make sense?"

Nodding excitedly, Blair said, "Exactly, Mom. That's exactly it. And working with Jim, you just can't begin to know what that's like. Or what he's like, Mom. When I think of all that he's been through, the people who've let him down and hurt him, I cringe. But Mom, Jim goes on, he keeps getting up and going forward. He has this need to protect and it hurts him so terribly when he perceives that he's failed--"

"But you're there for him, when he believes that he's failed."

"I try to be, Mom. I want to be."

"It works in reverse too, doesn't it? He's there for you, isn't he?"

Blair's eyes darkened. "Mom, if I fail, I fail him and it could get him killed."

Naomi frowned. With her left hand, she touched his chin and brought his gaze back to her. "Blair, you won't fail him. He loves you."

As if a magician had waved a wand over Blair's face, it cleared and he chuckled. "Yeah, sure. As Megan would say, no worries, mate. And do I smell pumpkin pies cooking?"

"My God, you just did it again. The whole misdirection thing. Blair Jacob Sandburg, you're impossible."

"Hey, I do smell pumpkin pies. And I need to take a short trip to the bathroom, if you don't mind, Mom?"

Springing to her feet, Naomi asked, "Should I get Jim to help?"

"Mom, I've been doing this particular deed on my own for quite some time."

Naomi stepped back as Blair threw off the covers and swung his legs carefully over the side of the bed. He waited a moment, eyes closed, then opened them and stood. Turning to his mother, he flashed a grin and said, "See? Standing up just fine."

"Yes, dear, I can see that. I just thought you'd like Jim to -- hold it -- for you."

Blair took his first few steps toward the bathroom door, then stopped. His head tilted to the right and slowly he turned. "Mom, did you just say what I thought you said?"

"Yes." Naomi watched in delight as he blinked at her. Then his face split into another grin.

"Well, go get him, Mom."

(O)

Naomi peeked around the swinging door and crooked her finger. "Oh, Jim?"

The man in question closed the oven and turned to face her. "Naomi? Is everything all right? Is it--"

"Everything is fine. Blair needs your help with something, that's all."

"Oh, okay."

Naomi walked the rest of the way into the kitchen and slid in beside Jake who was busy licking the remnants of the blueberry quick bread from a bowl. Jake had already finished licking the pumpkin quick bread bowl. With a sticky blue mouth, he said, "i could help daddy, i could."

"I have no doubt, Jake. But your daddy gave me strict orders to ensure that you finished, um --washing-- the bowls. So I'll stay here and help you while Jim helps daddy, okay?"

Jake held out a finger scoop of blueberry goo and said, "'kay! here, nomi, have some."

Smiling, Jim left the two to their cleaning duties and headed to the bedroom. When he arrived, he found Blair sitting up in the chair, a huge grin on his face. "Hey, what's up? You okay?"

"Me? I'm fine. Mom just thought I'd need some expert help in the bathroom, that's all. You up to it, Ellison?" Blair wagged his eyebrows suggestively, which only caused Jim to break out into laughter. "Oh, man, don't tell me I've lost my hunky sex appeal already?"

Catching his breath, Jim said, "Well, let's see. There you sit with two days worth of razor sharp stubble on your face, stringy hair, swathed in bandages and wearing my 'too big' black sweat pants. Oh, yeah, you're bad ass sexy, Sandburg."

"You know your problem, Jim?" At Jim's questioning look, Blair said, "You're forgetting that after a shave and shampoo, I will once again be bad assed sexy and you'll be out in the cold."

"Come on, Cassanova, let's get you into the bathroom. And you know damn well that you can't resist me, so attempting to withhold sexual favors is a fruitless exercise."

As Jim helped his partner stand, Blair said, "Sure, sure, Jim. You just keep thinking that. It'll keep you warm this winter -- when you're sleeping on the couch."

They moved into the bathroom and after Blair did his duty, Jim, who'd been lounging against the wall during the whole thing, stepped over to the sink, turned on the hot water and said, "Sit down, Chief. It's time to make you presentable. It's the least I can do for our company tomorrow."

"You say the sexiest things, Jim."

In spite of their banter, the trip to the bathroom had taken its toll on Blair. While Jim heated up the washrag, Blair sank gratefully down on the toilet seat cover and closed his eyes.

A few minutes later, Jim roused him with quiet words. "Hey, sleepy head, take this and drop it over those stubborn bristles.'

Opening his eyes, Blair took the rag and said with a grin, "More sweet talk. I'm under whelmed."

Jim snorted as he got another cloth and started to wet it down. When it was thoroughly soaked, he added soap, then knelt down beside his partner. Taking Blair's right arm, he started to bathe the injured man, his actions incredibly tender. Jim washed around the bandages and below, then carefully slipped the sweats off and did Blair's lower torso and legs. He even rested each foot on his knee and bathed them gently. When he was done and had rinsed the soapy skin, he threw the washcloth into the hamper and got Blair's razor ready.

Through the whole bath, Blair had floated on the sensations of Jim washing him, feeling Jim's love for him in a way that he was unaccustomed to experiencing. He felt -- almost -- embarrassed. The cloth was abruptly removed from his face and he blinked at the sudden light. Jim stood over him, razor in one hand, shaving cream in the other. "Jim, I can do that."

"I know," Jim said tenderly. "But I want to do it." He knelt again and carefully spread the cream over the lower half of Blair's face. After wiping his hand, he began the careful job of shaving his partner.

For the next five minutes, Blair experienced something totally foreign to him, something that not even the last weeks had given him. Someone, other than his mother, was taking complete and loving care of him. Like the bath before it, being shaved by Jim was sending one clear message. Every stroke of the blade told Blair just how much Jim loved him. Every gentle tilt of his jaw, every time Jim lifted his head with a tender touch to his chin -- it all said, "I love you, Chief."

When Jim finished, he washed off the razor, wiped down Blair's face, then spread some soothing aftershave over the skin.

"Don't move, Chief. Be right back."

Looking up at his partner, a slightly dazed expression on his face, Blair said, "Uh?"

"Don't move, sweetie pie," Jim repeated with a mischievous grin.

Mouth open in surprise, Blair watched as Jim walked out. Two minutes later he walked back in carrying one of Jake's play chairs. He set it down, back against the shower, and said, "Okay, let's get you over here and work on that hair of yours."

Blair obediently allowed himself to be re-positioned on the small chair and as Jim draped a towel over his chest, he gazed up into smiling pale blue eyes. Jim gently tilted his head back and picked up the shower nozzle. He turned on the water and when he was certain it was just right, he wet down the long hair. Jim turned the nozzle off, grabbed the shampoo and began to work it through Blair's hair. "Comfortable?" he asked, his fingers buried deep in curls and shampoo.

"Mmm," Blair murmured. Then he opened his eyes and asked, "Did you know that you called me sweetie pie?"

"Yep."

"Big jerk."

"Yep."

Nimble fingers worked the lather through and massaged Blair's scalp. He closed his eyes again and wondered if Jim had ever done this for Carolyn.

"No, she'd never let me."

Oops. He must have spoken aloud.

"Yep, you did."

"Well, damn."

"Yep."

"She was a fool, Jim."

Jim made a little grunt and kept on massaging.

(O)

"Green or grey?"

"Grey."

Jim dropped the green sweats and tossed the grey ones over. Blair caught them and with Jim's help, slipped into them. As he stood, and Jim tied the sweat cord, Blair said, "I love you too -- sweetie pie."

(O)

Jake was sound asleep on the floor by the fireplace, his fingers curled around Jakey's furry neck.

"I should put him in bed."

"He looks awfully comfortable, Jim."

"Yeah, but--"

"If you try to move Blair, Jake will wake up and then you'll have both of them on your hands."

Jim gazed down at the sleeping man in his arms and conceded, "Good point. So what's next on the tube?"

"Well, according to the television guide, we could watch Martha Stewart. She's doing a special on Thanksgiving."

Shifting slightly in order to ease his left arm, Jim nodded and said, "Let's go for it. We might learn something about turkeys for tomorrow. Maybe she has a good basting recipe."

"Ooh, good thinking, Jim."

Naomi punched in the Food Network and they settled down to watch Martha and her stuffing recipes while Jake and Blair slept on, oblivious.

(O)

"Do you need anything else," Jim inquired softly.

"No, go to bed. I'm fine. The Aero bed looks great."

"Okay, if you're sure. By the way, that's what Jake used to sleep on when he'd stay over night with Sandburg."

"I know. Go to bed."

"Yes, Mom."

Naomi smiled at the retreating back. As she fluffed up the pillow and pulled back the blanket, she thought maybe that butter and champagne mixture shared by Martha Stewart might just be perfect for tomorrow.

(O)

Jim walked silently down the dark hall and paused in front of his son's room. He stepped inside and as his eyes adjusted, he watched the rise and fall of Jake's chest. With a contented sigh, he headed for his own bedroom. A few minutes later, as he crawled in beside Sandburg, he found himself glad that Naomi had decided to stay the night.

With a start, Jim realized that any anger he'd been holding in reserve for Naomi -- was now gone.

Sliding an arm under his partner, he pondered the butter and champagne basting sauce that Martha had shared and decided that it would work.

"Jim?"

"None other."

"Damn, thought you were Brad Pitt."

"I'm way cuter."

"He's got more hair and a real cute--"

"If you say butt, you're dead meat."

"Ass."

"You are in so much trouble, Sandburg."

"Like I haven't caught you eyeballing Pitt's butt?"

"Well, if we're gonna talk butts -- I prefer--"

"Mine. I know. Stellar butt." He waited a moment, then said, "But -- yours is tops."

"Ah, well, nobody's as good as mine."

"True, true. Firm, round, soft--"

"Sandburg, is that your hand--"

"I damn well hope so, 'cause if it's Brad Pitt's, he's dead meat."

"Sandburg, you're in no condition for this--" A few minutes later, Jim sighed. "Well, maybe you are in condition for this--"

(O)

Blair felt his right leg cramp but trapped as he was in Jim's arms, he couldn't move. Normally that fact would have been very nice, but damn it, he had a cramp. He shifted slightly to his right and stifled a groan of pain.

"Blair?"

"Go back to sleep, Jim."

"Wha'--"

"Leg cramp, fine now, sleep."

Jim blinked in the darkness, let his eyes adjust, then carefully turned to face the man who'd moved out of his arms. "You know, I really hate it when you do that abbreviated speech thing. I always know something's wrong."

"You're right, Jim. I should be ashamed of myself. We both know how dangerous a leg cramp can be, yet here I am trying to shield you from the horrors of it, from the damage this cramp is perpetrating on my weak, emaciated, on its last legs body."

Jim's face took on the famous Sandburg-beleaguered expression and his eyes glazed over. He quickly shook his head as if trying to dislodge an army of ants. "I also hate it when you do that. Now why don't you just let me massage your leg, then we can both go back to sleep. I have a turkey to stuff in three hours."

"I wouldn't let you touch my leg now if you begged me." Blair didn't say it, but the words 'so there' were definitely hanging in the air over Blair's head.

"God, but you're tough."

"Damn right I am. Bullets and leg cramps can't stop me. No siree."

Jim could hear the smile, so he inched his way down in the bed until his head was even with Blair's thigh. Placing soft kisses on tense skin, Jim found the offending muscle and began to manipulate the cramp. The moans from his partner were completely satisfying. As he kneaded the skin, his sentinel-sensitive fingers working their magic, he could feel Blair relax, his body going almost as boneless as he'd be after one of their lovemaking sessions. Man, he was so good.

"Bet you think you're hot stuff tonight, don't you, Jim?" Blair murmured sleepily.

"Hey, I'm always hot stuff. Tonight is no different. You're a puddle of goo, right?"

Sighing happily, Blair said, "Correct-o-mundo. I think we need to insure your hands, pronto."

Jim finished his task, then planted another kiss, this time on Blair's knee. He scooted back up and after a few minutes of playing 'bed shuffleboard', he and Blair settled back to sleep. As he was drifting off, Jim murmured, "Next time, just ask."

"Oh, no, this was much more fun."

"Once upon a time, I could have threatened you with my gun. But alas, those days are gone now -- damn it."

"No they're not, you just have to threaten me with the right gun, you idiot."

"Ah. I'll remember that, Chief."

Blair's hand smoothed over Jim's chest as soft breath caressed his skin. "Please do."

(O)

Seven in the morning came impossibly early, but when Jim tried to complain to Sandburg, the younger man, still in bed and trying gamely not to smirk, simply said, "Seven came at its usual time, Jim. It arrived at precisely seven."

"I really hate a smartass, Sandburg. Especially one who gets to lollygag around all day today."

Blair grinned and stretched his right arm over his head, albeit carefully. As he scratched the back of his neck, he quipped, "Lollygag? Isn't that some sort of kinky sex toy? And when do you want to try it out?"

Jim froze in the middle of pulling on his jeans to stare at Blair. And blush.

"My God, Jim, you're -- I mean, your face -- and it's all, like, red." Jim was saved by a Jakebell.

"jimmy, jimmy! we *have*ta put the turkey in and we *have*ta put it in now!"

Jake, with a still sleep-flushed face and a raging case of bed-head, skidded to a stop in front of his father and tugged on the loose denim material. "and we *have*ta stuff it too!"

"Hey, Hoss, no good morning?" Blair queried. "Just stuff the turkey?"

Jake turned and with eyes still torn between sleep and waking, blinked, then rubbed said eyes and scratched his behind. "daddy, no time," he said with sorrow. "no time, must stuff the turkey."

Blair patted the space beside him and Jake looked up at his jimmy, who'd finished zipping up his jeans, then back to his daddy, uncertain. "Jake, my man, there's plenty of time, honest. Why, I'm thinking there's even time for cuddling -- if anyone were interested?" One small finger went to Jake's mouth and rested on the slightly extended lower lip. "you sure, daddy? because -- well, i could cuddle, i could."

"I'm very sure."

Blair looked to Jim for confirmation and the older man answered by lifting Jake under his arms and swinging him up, then gracefully back down again, and coincidentally on top of the very spot that Blair had offered. Jake giggled and immediately crawled towards his father, who held the covers so that Jake could burrow. As soon as he was under, Blair dropped the covers and patted the Jakelump on the blanketed rump. From underneath the warmth, a muffled voice said, "hey, cuddle not paddle!"

"Too good to pass up, Jake. How's the weather under there?"

"warm and cuddly!" Jim watched, laughter dancing in his pale blue eyes as the lump that was their son moved about under the blanket and comforter. Sounds began to emanate from the moving lump, sounds that were suspiciously similar to a rampaging animal. "Uh, Jim? I do believe we have a wild animal in our bed. And this time, it ain't you."

"Mmm, perhaps it's time I did a little investigating?"

"I think so. Maybe join me? See if we can't capture this animuuuuule?"

Another loud grrrr sounded, followed by a rumbling howling that ended with a high-pitched ooooo.

"Oh, yeah, I'm coming in, Chief. We clearly have something horrific in that bed." With that, Jim dropped down carefully, hands bracing himself on the end of the bed. Slowly he climbed on and started to slither toward the lump. The cautious Jakelump feinted right and as Jim leaned in the same direction, the Jakelump moved left. More growling sounds floated up and Blair joined the game by tracking the lump with his good hand.

Jim's eyes narrowed and he stretched out one arm, hand flat against the bed, then his other arm, as he circled the lump with feline grace, body low and lethal. A soft growl left Jim's mouth as he head-butted the Jakelump. The lump turned and moved forward, making sounds very much like purring. The Jakelump rubbed up against the Jimcat, who in turn, ducked his head and did some rubbing of his own. The next sound coming out from under the covers was very un-animal-like -- Jake giggled.

Blair stroked the Jakelump and murmured, "Nice kitty, nice kitty--"

"no, no, not a kitty, i'm not a kitty!" came the muffled reply.

"Oops. Okay, welp, if not a kitty, then what? You growl and purr just like a kitty--" "i'm a -- kuppy!"

One eyebrow rose as Jim gazed over at his partner, who shrugged helplessly. "Uh, 'kuppy', Jake?" Blair asked, eager to hear this explanation from his son.

"a'course, daddy! i'm a kitty and a puppy!"

Two pairs of blue eyes, one as light as the Caribbean Ocean, the other the same ocean, only at a greater depth, stared at each other as their mouths fell open. "Um," Jim mumbled. "Um," Blair mumbled. But then he smiled and said soft enough for only Jim, "You know, I wonder what his animal spirit is?"

(O)

"Is Mom up?"

"Yep. She's in the kitchen now."

"Well, that makes it easier. What's the kuppy doing?"

"As requested, waiting patiently for me to assist him with his morning ablutions. Well, he's bouncing, so for him, that's patient. Now duck." Blair did as asked and Jim slid the purple sling over Blair's head. Then he pulled the Thanksgiving sweatshirt over and carefully helped Sandburg slip his left arm into the sleeve. As Blair did his right arm, Jim tugged the shirt down over slender hips. "There. You are now dressed, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair glanced down at the orange sweatshirt and grimaced. "I can't believe we let Jake talk us into this, you know?"

"Yep. Twin sweatshirts."

"I only wish they were twins," Blair groused.

"Hey, they both have the same cranky looking turkey--"

"Oh, sure, but yours says, 'I'm the turkey your mother warned you about'. And by the way Jim? My mother did warn me about you."

Jim glanced down at the skinny, bowlegged, almost featherless and cross-eyed turkey that graced the front of his shirt, then over at the same turkey on Blair's. Chuckling, he said, "Sandburg, I think your shirt says it all. What could be more appropriate than 'I am a peacock, I am a peacock, I am a peacock'?"

"Yeah, well--" Jim pulled the younger man to him and running his hand up the back of Blair's neck and into the mass of hair, he whispered, "You're my peacock, Sandburg."

Blair lifted his head and planted a few kisses along Jim's jawline, then fisted the front of Jim's shirt to pull Jim's face within kissing range. As he let his own lips hover against Jim's, he whispered, "An you're my little peahen, Jim--" "Aw, Sandburg, I swear that flowered apron has got to go--"

(O)

"Okay, open wide--"

Jake obediently opened his mouth for inspection.

"Clean and pearly white, Hoss. Good job. You ready to stuff that turkey now?"

"i'm ready!"

Jim lifted him from the edge of the sink where he'd been sitting after brushing his teeth. He was now dressed in jeans and an orange tee-shirt that looked surprisingly like the one worn by his two fathers, except his turkey was winking and holding up a piece of pumpkin pie with a caption that read, 'pumpkins - beware'.

As Jim set him down, Jake, without a backward glance, scampered out into the hall and made a beeline for the kitchen. Jim had to almost run to catch up. As Jake burst through the swinging doors, he cried out, "happy thanksgiving, nomi!" then launched himself at his grandmother. She just managed to drop the dishtowel and catch him. She swung him up and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Jake. And good morning."

Jake returned the kiss, then wiggled and Naomi quickly let him down. Once his feet hit the floor, he clamped a hand over this mouth, mumbled, "uhm-ohm", turned around and hightailed it out of the kitchen. Surprised, Jim and Naomi followed the running boy, who halted in front of his daddy.

Blair had been ordered to the couch by Jim and as Jake thundered into the living room, he had the morning paper open to the editorial pages. As soon as Jake skittered to a stop in front of him, he folded it over and peered at his son.

"i forgot somethun, daddy! i forgot to say, 'happy thanksgiving!'"

Grinning, Blair said, "Well, I forgot too, so Happy Thanksgiving, Jake and when's the parade on, by the way?"

Curls bobbed as Jake whipped his head around and looked up at Jim, who in turn looked imploringly at Naomi, who checked her watch. "In exactly thirty minutes, Jake. Which gives us the precise amount of time needed to stuff the turkey and put it in the oven."

"oops! be back, daddy, but gotta stuff the turkey, 'kay?"

"I'll be here waiting, Hoss."

Jake turned and said cheerfully, "happy thanksgiving, jimmy!"

Jim lifted him up and placed him on his shoulders as he repeated the morning greeting along with a warning to "duck, Jake". Jake ducked, then rode confidently toward his duties of Great Turkey Stuffer for the day.

(O)

The morning sun was making itself known in the living room as streaks of autumn rays raced across the hardwood floor. The window that overlooked the courtyard was open half-way, allowing fresh air and the scent of someone's early-lit fireplace to filter into the apartment. Blair dropped his head against the arm of the couch and closed his eyes.

As he took in fall air and cooking aromas, he realized that he was finally living the Thanksgiving of his dreams. Except for the bullet hole in his shoulder, naturally. He could have done without that.

He'd never been able to explain his joy when Fall arrived. Had never been able to explain why it was his favorite time of year and why encroaching darkness at only five in the afternoon always made him feel good. Nor could he explain why he waited for that bright sunny Saturday that would permit the first blaze in the fireplace. Of course, there'd been many a fall season without a fireplace, hell, there'd been many a fall spent in countries where it was blazing hot, but still-- Fall.

He was pretty certain that his mother would chalk it up to the start of school, but she'd be wrong. And he was amazed that until that very moment, he'd not given a thought to what was going on at Rainier.

Very odd.

Fourteen years at the university, fourteen Autumns, and still not a single curious thought. Surely he must miss it? "Nope," he said out loud. Grinning, he thought more about Autumn.

Was it the turning of the leaves and the way the air shimmered with an almost holy brightness? Or was it the sweet, sharp smell of fireplaces as they burned logs? Was it the promise of a Thanksgiving like this one, where his home would be filled with the wonderful aromas of cooking and a child's laughter? Maybe it was the promise of -- Jim?

Blair thought back to this time last year -- and Jim's reunion with his father. A reunion that had resulted in the first Ellison Thanksgiving in over twenty years.

It had been a stiff formal affair, with William Ellison as unsure as to why his elder son had brought his roommate as he was of his elder son. Steven had shown up with a lovely brunette who'd spent her evening flirting with Blair while an amused Steven had watched. The dinner had been catered, with only the desserts homemade by Sally.

The elder Ellison had kept the television on most of the day and Blair had suspected the reason had been two-fold: Mr. Ellison felt that football would be the tie that would bind he and his two sons, and; with the set on, any real conversation would be avoided. The four men could sit and enjoy hors d'oeuvres and talk the way William Ellison thought they should talk, namely talking football while Steven's date sat and looked picturesque.

The perfect Ellison Thanksgiving.

But driving home that night with the windows frosting up and a light blanket of fog hovering low to the ground, Blair had discovered something. The discovery came in the form of spotting Jim taking covert peeks into large picture windows where families gathered for their feast. Blair found himself looking as well and for the entire drive home, both men had stared longingly into those windows as happy hordes of families ate at lovely dining room tables. Tables with linen and candles and huge platters of home-cooked food--

"They're all dysfunctional, Jim. We shouldn't envy," Blair had finally said.

Jim had laughed, then both had gone back to -- looking.

As they'd neared home, Jim had said quietly, "We -- this was actually -- our first Thanksgiving at home. We always ate at the country club. Or at some fancy restaurant. Someday--" His voice had trailed off and Blair had found himself mentally finishing Jim's thought with his own: Someday -- a warm, loving, truly thankful Thanksgiving, with family, friends, good food and -- someone to love.

Even back then, Blair had known the name of that person--

"Jim," he whispered, eyes still closed, a smile on his lips.

(O)

"but onions?"

"Yep, onions. And celery. Trust me, Jake, you'll love it, honest. And you won't taste the onions, just the delicious sweet flavor."

Jake gazed up adoringly at his father, who was sauting the onions and celery in sweet unsalted butter. He scrunched up his face at the idea of onions in his turkey stuffing and whined, "but, jimmy, onions?"

Jim waved the wooden spatula so that the aroma of the vegetables could get to his son as he said, "Doesn't that smell great?"

Jake twitched his nose, inhaled suspiciously, then grinned. "wow, jimmy! it does smell goooood."

"Well, sure. Wait until you taste it all together. Hustle yourself over to the table and we'll assemble this magical stuffing." Jake nodded and scampered to the booth, slid in and promptly got on his knees. He wrapped his arms around the big bowl full of seasoned breadcrumbs and grinning, waited patiently. Next to him sat Naomi, who was currently chopping the pecans that would be added to the stuffing.

Jim turned the fire off under the finished vegetables and moved the saute pan to another burner. While the celery and onions cooled, he opened the jar of applesauce and poured it into a bowl that could be easily handled by somewhat clumsy four-year old hands. He carried it over to the table, set it down beside the other ingredients, then said, "Okay, I'm going to get Blair so that he can be in on the great stuffing caper. When we get back, Jake, you're on."

Jake clapped his hands, then stole a bit of chopped pecan and with an innocent smile, popped it into his mouth. Jim shook his finger and said, "The chef is entitled to a few morsels, but let's save most of it for our stuffing, okay?"

"'kay, and for daddy too!"

"Exactly." With that, Jim walked into the living room and over to the couch.

"Hey, you awake?"

Keeping his eyes closed, Blair nodded.

"You want to join us while Jake and I mix the stuffing then stuff it?"

"Stuff it? I like the sound of that, Jim."

"I just bet you do, you being a sex fiend and all. However, your mother and our son will be present, so let's confine the stuffing to the turkey."

Blue eyes flicked open and Blair grinned wide. "Oh, man, I am not touching that line with a ten foot pole, turkey."

"More like a seven and a half inch pole, Chief."

"Eight."

"Yeah, right. You coming?"

Blair lost it.

Jim rolled his eyes.

(O)

"Okay, here come the onions and celery--" Jim poured directly from the pan, then placed it in the sink.

"do i stir now, jimmy?"

"Yep, give it a good stir."

With a smile directed at his other father, Jake picked up the spoon and with both hands, started blending the breadcrumbs with the vegetables and melted butter.

"now what, daddy?"

"Now more melted butter," Jim said as he poured. "Okay, stir again," he added.

Jake stirred.

"now what, nomi?"

"Now the applesauce," Naomi said as she handed the small bowl to Jake, who poured -- and stirred.

"You know, it's kind of fun," Blair suggested with a twinkle in his eye, "if you mix with your fingers. Give it a try, Jake."

Eyes saucer wide, Jake dropped the spoon and with a nod from Blair, dug in. "ooh, gooey and goooood, daddy!"

He mixed and tumbled and turned the breadcrumbs over and over until the applesauce had been thoroughly blended. "now what, jimmy?"

Jim peeked into the bowl, then glanced at Naomi. "Does it look moist enough?"

Naomi shrugged her shoulders helplessly. Jim looked hopefully at Blair, who plucked out a small gob of stuffing. He rolled it around in his fingers, then popped it into his mouth. After swallowing, he looked at Jake, who looked back expectantly. Grinning, Blair said, "Yep. Perfect."

Jake beamed and said, "now what, daddy?"

"The pecans. Then we'll check for the seasoning."

Jake nodded and with help from everyone, the pile of chopped nuts were added and Jake did more mixing with his hands. "now we season?"

"Yep." Blair pinched some more dressing and popped it into his mouth as Jim and Naomi did the same.

Naomi was first to speak and said, "More sage." A second later, Jim said, "More salt," and Blair said, "More pepper."

All three laughed, then Blair added a bit more sage, while Jim ground more pepper and Naomi shook out a bit more coarse sea salt and threw it in. Jake waited, then with a nod from all three, he plunged his hands in and mixed again. Blair tasted and said, "Mmmm, perfect, Jake."

Jim tasted and nodded happily, as did Naomi. "I do believe we have concocted the finest turkey stuffing in the history of turkey stuffing, Jake," Jim announced proudly.

"now what?" asked the practical Jake.

"Now you and Jim stuff to your hearts content," Blair pronounced.

The regal, and recently cleaned and rinsed, turkey was pulled out of the refrigerator by Jim and set before Jake. With a few tips from Blair, like tenderizing and rubbing some of the wine/butter sauce under the skin, Jim and Jake stuffed the turkey.

As they worked, Blair held his breath and prayed that Jake didn't ask about where he was stuffing or that he was indeed stuffing what had once been a living bird. Jake didn't and Blair breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe they wouldn't have to deal with such subjects until next year. While Jim and Jake worked, Blair leaned over and whispered in his mother's ear, "Mom, we have some cheesecloth in the cupboard. If we soak it in the sauce and lay it over the bird, well, it'll keep it moist and help keep the breast from drying out."

Eyes bright, Naomi nodded excitedly. Blair slid over so she could get up and she immediately hurried to the cupboard and took the cloth down. With a few hastily given instructions from Blair, she cut a large enough square and waited for Jim and Jake to finish.

With a flourish, Jim finished tying up the cavities and legs and presented the turkey to Naomi. She promptly drenched the cheesecloth in the sauce, and with a few guiding words from her son, draped it over the turkey. Jake watched avidly at this new twist to their turkey, then asked his usual, "now what, daddy?"

"Now it goes into the oven. But Jim and Naomi will have to baste every thirty minutes until our prized turkey is done." Nodding, Jake hurried to the oven and opened it so Jim could slide the bird inside, then he closed it.

"how long, daddy?" he asked as he crawled back up next to his father.

"A long time, Jake. Several hours in fact. But it'll be ready by two. At that time, all that you'll need to do are the rolls and warming the corn pudding casserole."

"then what do we do 'til then?" he asked, a trifle let down now that his work was done. Naomi took over and said, "Well, Jim and I will clean the kitchen. Then we'll make the breakfast rolls and hot chocolate while you and Blair go out and turn on the television for the parade."

"yippee! i can do that!"

As Jake led his father out, Jim gave Naomi his best, "you're dead meat" look. She in turn chuckled and took the cinnamon rolls out of the fridge.

(O)

"daddy, it's big bird!" Jake pointed excitedly at the screen. Both Jim and Blair nodded as their son nearly bounced between them.

All three were seated on the couch, Jake wedged comfortably between his fathers, his mouth showing the remnants of iced cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate. Naomi sat in the chair and watched her three men watching the parade.

As the parade continued, Naomi allowed herself a few moments of contemplation. She looked around the room and enjoyed the peacefulness of the morning as it invaded her soul. Sighing happily, she wondered if any day could be more perfect or if any Thanksgiving more traditional? Grinning mentally, she added one other thought: How had this happened to her?

She was the non-traditionalist, yet here she was in her son's home, a turkey cooking in the oven, a fire in the fireplace and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on television. What about all the places she could have been instead? Like New Orleans, Taos, London, or the French Riviera? She'd received so many invitations and as usual, could have had the world at her fingertips, yet -- she was here -- in Cascade, Washington.

Finally, after so many years apart, she was spending Thanksgiving with Blair.

As she let her gaze rest on her son, she couldn't help the grin. Normal? Traditional? Hardly. She was sitting in a living room with her anthropologist cum detective, his soul mate, a 'sentinel', detective and male, and to top it off, sitting between the two strange wonderful men, sat the boy who would be their son. A new kind of normal? Naomi nodded to herself and went back to watching the parade.

(O)

"Did you make sure that Simon knew not to get all dressed up?"

"Yes, Chief, don't worry."

"Oh, okay."

Jim lifted the wrappings that bound his partner's chest and peered between the space he'd created. Nodding, he smiled in satisfaction. "Looks good, Chief."

"It should."

"What time tomorrow is your appointment with Doctor Henderson?"

"Eleven."

"Good, good." With infinite care, Jim helped Blair put the sweatshirt back on, now that he was certain Blair's wound was fine.

"Jake?" Blair mumbled from under the shirt.

"Sound asleep. We'll wake him just before Simon and Daryl arrive."

"Sounds like a plan."

As Blair's head reappeared, flushed and hair tousled, Jim bit back a groan. As they worked together pulling the shirt down, Jim's hand skimmed the warm skin and without thought, he leaned in and kissed the lips that beckoned.

"Mmm--"

"Goood," Jim finished for Blair. He brought his hand up and cupped the side of Blair's face, his lips still brushing against Blair's. "Love you," he murmured.

"Love you right back."

Jim sat next to him and tenderly took him into his arms. This time the kiss was deep and long as two pairs of hands traveled gently over well known and much loved territory. Jim's fingers skimmed across Blair's stomach, enjoying the trembling even as Blair's hand smoothed across his chest. He changed the angle of his head which allowed greater access to Blair's mouth. Both men lost themselves for a few precious moments.

(O)

"when will they be here?"

"Any moment, Jake, relax."

Jake was up, anxious, and standing on his toes at the window so that he could peer out into the courtyard. The house was filled with the wonderful aroma of cooking turkey, a fire blazed cheerfully, and everyone was ready.

"what time is it?"

Jim, with Blair resting against his chest, chuckled and said, "Two minutes since the last time you asked, which makes it five minutes before one."

"so they'll be here in," he did some quick and difficult thinking, "five -- minutes?"

"Give or take, yeah. Why don't you go check your room? Make sure it's ready for you and Daryl."

Jake, looking for allthe world like someone who'd just been given the best idea in the universe, ran helter-skelter for his room. Jim wasn't the only one who could hear Jake talking to himself--

"daddy's 'puter, so daryl and i can play games; check. my craoooolas and lots of paper for drawing; check. all my robots and leggos; check. i be ready!"

All three adults heard the pounding of Jake's tennis shoe-clad feet as he headed back to the living room on the run. He ran to the couch and with a happy grin, said, "my room is ready, all ready!"

Jim cocked his head and said, "And someone is here, Jake. Not Simon and Daryl yet, but someone." A knocking on the door sent Jake running, eager to see who their visitor might be. He reached up and pulled the door open to see John Holder standing on their stoop, a large bouquet of fall flowers in his hand.

"Jake, my man. Happy Thanksgiving!"

Jake pushed open the screen door and John entered as Jake said, " happy thanksgiving and are those for me or my nomi?"

Chuckling, John said, "These are for all of you, Jake."

Jim and Blair had started to move as soon as they'd heard John's voice and both now stood to face their friend and the new manager of the Anjasmayo.

"Hey, John, Happy Thanksgiving, man."

"Right back at you, Blair. I'm on my way to Megan's and thought I'd drop these off--" Jim moved forward and took the flowers as he shook John's hand.

"Are you sure these are for us, John," Jim teased. "and not for Megan?"

Grinning right back at the older man, John said, "I have another bouquet in the car. Much bigger."

"Good thinking. Megan would kick your butt if you showed up without."

John rolled his eyes and said, "Don't I know it." Then he turned his attention to Blair and asked, concerned, "How you doing, Blair?"

"Just fine. Jake is taking very good care of me." Blair pulled his mother forward and with a smile, said proudly, "John, I'd like you to meet my mother, Naomi Sandburg. Mom this is John Holder, our neighbor."

Naomi shook the handsome young man's hand as she said, "So good to meet you, John."

"It's a real pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Sandburg. I've heard so much about you and your travels."

Naomi smiled at the man as she took the flowers from Jim. "Why don't I go put these up? They'll look beautiful on the serving table. It was good to meet you, John, and I suspect we'll see a good deal of each other in the future."

"I look forward to it. And guys, I'm outta here. I'm due at Megan's," he checked his watch, "Um, now. See you later and again, Happy Thanksgiving. And Jake, don't eat too much, okay?"

For a moment, Jake looked puzzled, then asked, "what's too much, johnny?"

"You know you've eaten too much if your tummy bursts," John supplied a little too helpfully.

"ooh, that could be gooey! i'm gonna make my tummy burst!"

"Jake, say good-bye to John and no, you will not make your tummy burst, you'd ruin the hardwood floors," Blair warned with a grin.

"oh, 'kay and bye johnny! tell auntie meggy happy thanksgiving for me, okey-dokey?"

"Will do, Jakester. And I suspect she'll be giving you a call later to compare turkeys, okay?"

"yippee! but ours will be the bestest!"

(O)

"they're here, they're here!"

Jake was jumping up and down, arms waving in the air while he tracked Simon's and Daryl's progress through the courtyard. As he bounced from one foot to the other, Jim walked to the door and threw it open to welcome their guests. From half-way across the courtyard, Simon's voice boomed out, "Happy Thanksgiving!" Jake burst through the door and raced to his Uncle Simon's side. "wait til you see the table, unca simon! and my turkey, i colored it myself and we got flowers from johnny and my nomi put them up on the serving table with the pies and daddy and jimmy are wearing the shirts i picked out, like mine, see?" He pulled at the bottom of his shirt and held it out so that Simon could better see the turkey.

"Well, I gotta tell ya, Jake, that is the best turkey shirt I've ever seen."

Jake grabbed Simon's hand, then turned slightly and tugged at Daryl's, who was standing behind his father and grinning at the excited boy.

Daryl laughed out loud as he was pulled unceremoniously forward. "Whoa, Jake, buddy, I'm gonna drop this sweet potato casserole," he said between chuckles.

"you can't do that, daryl! want me to help?"

"No, no, I've got it. I'm great at balancing."

Jake giggled but also slowed down. A few moments later they entered the apartment where hellos and introductions, Naomi to Daryl, were exchanged. Coats and jackets were hung up and the casserole was taken into the kitchen. Simon had brought a nice wine to go with dinner and he presented that to Naomi who received it with much appreciation. As everyone mingled, smiled and slapped backs, a beaming Jake stood in the middle of the living room staring up into laughing faces.

Thanksgiving had started.

(O)

"my room, daryl, you gotta see my room, 'kay? and the dining room, come see the dining room, 'kay?"

Jake was tugging on Daryl, who in turn, was laughing, following and wondering if he'd been like Jake when he was four?

As the two boys disappeared into the dining room, Simon sat down and breathed out a sigh of comfort and relief.

"Can I get you anything to drink, Simon?" Naomi offered.

"A beer would just about do it, Naomi."

"One beer coming right up and no," she added as she looked at her son, "you may not have one. You're on too many medications."

Blair, back in Jim's arms, quirked an eyebrow at his mother and said, "Mom, I'm on one antibiotic and one pain pill, which I'm taking at night, and could someone tell me why I'm whining?"

"Cause your mother said no beer?" Jim suggested helpfully as he thunked the side of Blair's head with his finger.

"Whose side are you on, anyway? And before you answer that, just remember; perks."

"Oh, yeah -- perks. Here, have some of mine." Jim reached for his still cold and half-full bottle and brought it to Blair's lips. Watching the Ellison-Sandburg antics, Simon rolled his eyes and with a "harumph", rose and said, "I'm heading into the kitchen. It's getting -- weird out here."

"Coward," Blair huffed as he reached for Jim's hand, the one holding the beer.

"Yep and not ashamed to admit it."

"If you stay here, you won't be subjected to the grand tour by our favorite tourmaster, Jake," Jim added, a twinkle in his eye.

"If I stay here, I shall be embarrassed as my two best detectives go all gooey-eyed at each other. I'll take Jake's tour."

Blair had a hold of the beer now and as Simon started to walk away, he said, "We do not make goo-goo eyes at each other, nor do we go all gooey-eyed. But I was thinking of sucking--"

"Oh God." Simon beat a hasty retreat.

"I can't believe you said that to Simon. You are one sick puppy, Sandburg."

"What? All I said was that I was thinking about sucking on the bottle," Blair said innocently. Then he took Jim's hand and said, "Or -- I could suck on -- this--" Blair promptly closed his mouth around Jim's middle finger. "You... god damn it... how do you make this... so sexy... and -- and shit, Jake's coming," Jim finished with a hiss.

Reluctantly, Blair allowed Jim to pull the thoroughly sucked digit from his mouth. He promptly replaced said digit with Jim's beer. Jake entered and both men had to smile because their son was still tugging at Daryl. As the two passed the couch, Jake said without so much as a glance at his parents, "now my room, now it's time to see my room and we can play games and draw pictures and my daddy's 'puter is in there, just for us, and we can play Chocobo's Dungeon, 'kay?" The two men watched in bemusement as Daryl was led to the slaughter. When they'd disappeared, Jim asked, puzzled, "Chief, Chocobo's Dungeon?"

"You know, the game with the fat chicken?"

"Oh. Yeah. Poor Daryl."

Blair tilted back his head so that he could see Jim and said, "Yeah, poor Daryl. Uh, Jim? Could I have your finger back, please?"

"What, you're out of beer?"

"Yep."

"You are so sick. And there are children in the house."

"In another room, duh."

"And your mo-ther and your boss."

"In another room, duh."

"Does getting shot always make you this horny?"

"No, you always make me this horny. Duh." Grinning, Jim stuck his finger in the opening of the beer bottle, tipped said bottle and when he was certain his finger was coated, slipped it out and ran it over Blair's bottom lip.

"Jim, do you need another beer?" Naomi asked as she and Simon re-entered the living room.

Jim just managed not to jump as he mumbled, "Um, no, Naomi, no, we're -- I'm -- fine."

Blair sniggered.

Jim, Naomi and Jake all stood in front of the open oven, staring at the turkey.

"is it done yet, jimmy?"

"I think -- so."

"Where's the pop-up thermometer, Jim?"

Jim pointed and said, "Right where Mr. Turkey left it, and whaddya know, the dang thing actually popped up."

"It certainly looks done, Jim. Beautifully brown and smells wonderful too."

"Amen to that, Naomi. I think I'll take it out, let it rest, and maybe you can pop in the two casseroles and the rolls?"

"You got it."

Jake picked up the oven mitts and handed them to his father while Naomi picked up the cooking tray that held the two casserole dishes. As Jim slid the turkey out and rested the roasting pan on the stovetop, Naomi slid the tray in its place, followed by the yeasty rolls.

"should i get everyone to the table, jimmy?"

"I think that would be an excellent idea, Jake."

Jake turned tail and ran out, eyes alight and face shining. Both adults could hear him as he announced, "time, it's time, everyone to the table for gobble-gobble!"

Grinning from ear to ear, Naomi said, "Gobble-gobble?"

Jim just shrugged and grinned right back.

(O)

The candles were lit, the wine (cider for Jake and Pepsi for Daryl) was poured and all the side dishes were in place. Blair sat at one end of the table, with Jake on his right and Naomi on his left. At the other end, Jim, with Simon on one side and Daryl the other. In front of Jim, a large, Thanksgiving themed platter held the golden brown and glistening turkey.

Jim glanced around the table and started to pick up the carving knife when a small "ahem" made itself heard from the other end of the table. With carving instruments frozen in mid-air, Jim asked, "Jake?"

"did you forgot?"

Jim shot a look at his partner, who mouthed, "giving thanks". The light bulb went on and Jim said, "Not at all, Jake. We'll go around the table, starting with," Jim's blue eyes glittered mischievously as he said with great solemnity, "Simon."

"Huh?" Simon said, at a loss.

"Sharing, Simon," Blair explained. "We each take a moment to share what we're especially thankful for this Thanksgiving."

"cherry says it's a tradishun, unca simon!"

"Ah," Simon acknowledged. "Well, then. I guess I'm thankful that Jim had a good coach when preparing that truly delicious looking turkey, and I'm grateful to have been invited here today." He glanced over at his son, and with a warm smile, added, "I'm also eternally grateful that I'm spending today with my son."

Naomi, eyes serious, went next. "I'm grateful to be included in today's festivities. I'm grateful for my son's well-being--"

Simon nodded and added a quiet, "Amen, but I still say he needs to learn to duck--" Everyone chuckled and small fingers found their way into Blair's as Naomi went on, her loving gaze falling on Jake. "I'm very grateful that our family is now larger by one and that I'm a grandmother, especially since Jake is such a good stuffing stirrer. And may we all have many more Thanksgiving's like this one."

Amens were once again heard, along with a satisfied giggle from Jake. As Blair's fingers tightened their grip on Jake's, he said, "Well, I'm grateful for Martha Stewart because it looks as though that basting recipe is a winner." Everyone laughed and agreed, then Blair added, "And I'm very glad that my mother is here, and that we're sharing this day with Simon and Daryl." Blair grinned over at Daryl and added, "Especially with you Daryl, as you're clearly a good loser where racing with fat chickens is concerned."

"I'll say," Daryl added as he high-fived Jake.

"And," Blair went on with a smile, "you obviously make a great sweet potato casserole. The aroma has been driving me crazy all day." Bright blue eyes shifted to focus on Jim. "Finally, I'm forever grateful for a certain stubborn lug, and a wiggle wart." At a tug from Jake, Blair quickly amended, "Oh, and I'm grateful for Jakey, wolfpup extraordinaire."

Jim nudged Simon and said, "Did you hear that, sir? He called you a stubborn lug."

"No, I don't think so, Ellison. I think everyone at this table would agree that only one individual meets that definition, and Jake, I believe it's your turn."

Blair gave Simon a satisfied thumbs up as Jake said, "ummmmm, i be grateful that me, jimmy and my nomi didn't burn the turkey and that daryl wants the wings, although i'd a shared my leg, and i'm grateful because we're having real whupped cream for our pumpkin pie, but i still think jakey should be allowed to eat with us." Then before either of his father's could give him the evil eye, he said, "and i'm most especially glad because we're not having thanksgiving in the hospertal because their mashed tatoes were icky."

Everyone clapped over that one, with more amens being said. No one missed the undercurrent of true gratitude that one of them was indeed with them instead of in the hospital -- or worse. Nor did anyone miss Jake's hand as he gripped his father's even tighter.

"Yes, well, I can attest to the fact that turkey in a hospital is even worse than their mashed potatoes, Jake."

Jake faced Daryl, eyes wide as he asked, "you had to have turkey in the hospertal once?"

"Yep," Daryl acknowledged. "When I was ten, I had my tonsils out, and Jake, trust me, you do not want to have turkey in the hospital, especially when you're supposed to have ice cream."

Blue eyes widened as Jake turned back to his father. "daddy, do i still have my tonsils? will i have to have them out?"

"Yes, you still have your tonsils, Jake, but so do I, so who knows? If you do ever have to have them out, we'll make sure you get ice cream and not turkey, okay?"

Satisfied, Jake whipped his head back to Daryl. "okay, your turn, daryl."

"Oh, right. Okay, I'm grateful to be here today, with all of you, especially since you guys apparently know how to make a good turkey, and my dad doesn't--"

"Hey," Simon interrupted, feigning injured pride. "I do a great turkey, Daryl."

"Ye-ah, if it's already cooked, Dad."

"Well, that's true. But you have to admit, my mashed sweet potatoes are great."

"So great, Dad, that I'm grateful we're having regular mashed potatoes today."

"and don't forget real turkey graveeeee."

"Right, Jake, and real turkey gravy. I'm also very grateful that thanks to Jake, I now know how to play Chocobo's Dungeon. I'm also very grateful that I'm spending Thanksgiving with my Dad and all of you. Thank you."

"you're welcum," Jake said proudly. "your turn, jimmy. you're last."

"Naturally, Jake. We always save the best for last." Jim ignored the snickering that accompanied his remark. He also ignored the olive that somehow found its way across the table to thunk against his chest. "Well," Jim said, after popping the olive into his mouth and winking at his son, "I'm very grateful for Martha Stewart too, and for Jake's ability to mix and stir. I'm very grateful to have all of you here today and I'm especially--" Jim paused and glanced down at his hands for a moment before looking back up and capturing Blair's gaze. "I'm especially grateful for traditions, old and -- new." With a wicked grin, he added, "And for wiggle warts -- both big and small."

An eyebrow arching, Blair turned to Jake and said with feigned shock, "Why, Jake, my man, I do believe Jim means us." With the wisdom of four year olds, Jake nodded and said seriously, "wiggle warts ruuuule."

"Absolutely, Jake," Blair affirmed.

Nodding, Jake said gleefully, "happy thanksgiving, and jimmy, you can carve the turkey now."

(O)

The corn pudding and sweet potato casserole were a dim memory, the turkey had been reduced to a thoroughly picked upon carcass, and a platter of left-over meat and stuffing. The salad bowls were completely empty, as was the breadbasket. The crystal dish that had once held the carrots and mushrooms in wine was now in front of Simon, who was dredging a piece of roll in the remaining sauce while sighing contentedly.

Jake was slumped in his seat, a dopey grin on his face, Daryl looking much the same. Jim gazed about the table and shook his head in surprise and wonder. Norman Rockwell would have been proud. He caught Blair's eye and noticed the slight "green around the gills" look his partner was currently sporting and quickly moved to Blair's chair. "Come on, Chief, let's get you to the bedroom for some rest."

Blair waved a hand as a worried Naomi stood and a made a move in his direction. "No, no, I'm fine, really."

"I don't think so, Chief. Don't make me and Jake carry you."

"i could," Jake piped up. "well, i could carry daddy's -- arm."

Smiling, Blair said, "I'm sure you could and maybe I will sit on the couch--"

"Bed, you mean. Maybe you'll go sit on the bed. Now up and easy does it." Blair stood, lips pursed in disgust.

As Jim took his arm, Simon motioned to Daryl and suggested, "Why don't we make ourselves useful, son, by clearing the table? Start packing this stuff up?"

"Sounds like a plan, Dad."

"No, that won't be necessary, Simon. I'll clear up while Jim gets Blair settled. You and Daryl head out into the living room and I'll get some coffee started."

Jim, shaking his head, pushed Blair out into the living room, Jake on his heels. As they moved into the hall, he could hear Simon--

"Absolutely not, Naomi. Daryl and I are happy to help and with three of us working together, things will go faster. Besides, I suspect Jim and Blair planned this."

Jim heard Naomi's silvery laughter, then--

"I wouldn't put it past them, Simon."

(O)

"Look, just rest, okay? For one hour. Then I'll come and get you."

Blair looked up at his partner through two narrowed suspicious eyes. "One hour?" "One hour. Then pie and football."

"All right. But just one hour."

"Deal. And how 'bout some aspirin?"

"Good idea, and thanks."

"You're welcome."

While Jim went into the bathroom, Jake helped his daddy take off his shoes, then he crawled up the bed and fluffed up the pillows.

"'kay, daddy, you can lie back now."

"Thank you, Jake. You're a prince."

Jim came back out, glass and aspirin in hand. He stood patiently at his side while Blair swallowed, then said, "I'll be back in one hour, Chief."

"Not one minute later, Jim."

"Absolutely. Jake, you coming?"

The boy in question let his body drop flat on the bed. He spread out his arms as his head hit the pillow. Bringing one hand up and tapping his tummy, Jake said, "i be very stuffted. maybe i should stay here until my tummy unstuffs?"

"Ah, yes, good idea, Hoss." Jim leaned over and kissed Jake on the forehead, then whispered, "You're a wonderful son. Keep daddy company, okay?"

"'kay."

Jim dropped another kiss, this one on the tip of Blair's nose, then headed back to the living room, closing the door behind him.

Jake rolled over on his side and patted his daddy's cheek as he said, "sleep now, daddy?"

"Yep, a little nap. And thank you, Jake."

"you're welcum, daddy."

Smiling, Blair tucked the boy into his side and they both closed their eyes.

Two minutes later as Jake shifted and shuffled, Blair said with a smile, "Hey, you're still awake."

"nuh-uh. but you are."

Blair yawned, stretched out his good arm and then grinned down at his son. "I do believe I am still awake, Hoss. But not for long."

Jake snuggled in closer, found his daddy's hand, grabbed a finger and started playing, but his facial expression was serious. "daddy...."

Blair, clued in by the seemingly mindless exercising of his finger by his son, said, "Um?"

"daddy, you won't ever -go 'way-- will you?"

Blair, in spite of anticipating something like this, was still shocked and a ready reply was nowhere to be found.

Jake, eyes locked on his father's finger, took a deep breath and asked quietly, "you don't --you won't-- you don't need to see gammy or bluey, do you?"

Blair felt the pain of the question in his gut, his jaw and in the building of moisture behind his eyes. He swallowed hard and with great tenderness, took Jake's hand in his and stilled the restless frightened fingers. But Jake still didn't meet his eyes. "Hoss, if I have anything to say about it, I won't be going anywhere."

"and -- jimmy?"

"Same for him."

"but -- you didn't duck, daddy. unca simon said you didn't duck!"

Aw, God. Words seemed to be in hiding as Blair struggled with his emotions. He closed his eyes and fought with his brain and heart, fought to find the correct words, let alone any words. A kind of truth was needed.

"Jake, I did duck. I ducked behind the door of the truck just like Jim. And that's why I was only injured in the arm. Simon was just making a joke, welp. Cops do that, when they're worried. And you know what?" At Jake's inviting shrug, he said, "This wasn't the first time I was ever shot."

With eyes wide with surprise, curiosity and unveiled interest -- Jake looked up at his daddy. "it wasn't?" he asked incredulously.

"Nope. Once, while trying to help Jim find Simon, I was shot in the leg. And I wasn't even a cop back then," he shared conspiratorially.

"you weren't?"

"Nope. Just riding along with Jim."

"did you find unca simon?"

"What do you think?"

A small giggle was his answer. Then Jake got serious again. "has jimmy ever been -- shot?"

"Yes, Jake, he has. He's been a policeman for a long time, you know. And you want to hear something funny?"

"yes, please."

"Jimmy was shot in the arm several months ago, and then in the leg a few months later."

Jake frowned as he tried to puzzle out the information his father had just given him, but he finally made the connection and actually grinned. "you and jimmy? both of you? in the same place?"

"Yep. See? We're both very good duckers. And we protect each other very well. We're a team out there, Jake. Partners."

"partners," Jake breathed out almost reverently. "and you protekted me and jakey too, don't you?"

"Yes, Jimmy and I do."

"you protekted everybudy, don't you, daddy? better than anyone else in the whole - wide - world, don't you?"

"You know, Hoss, I do believe that Jimmy does exactly that."

"and you protekted jimmy!"

"I sure hope so, Jake. Now, how 'bout we get some shut-eye?"

"'kay, i could do that." But a few seconds later, a very small voice said, "gammy was here today, wasn't she, daddy?"

"I'm sure she was, welp."

(O)

Jim peeked inside and smiled. Blair was sound asleep, but Jake wasn't. He was lying down, but his eyes were open and he was tracing the turkey on Blair's shirt with one small finger while yawning. Jim moved to the bedside and grinned down at his son. "Hey," he said quietly.

"i'm awake, but daddy isn't."

"I can see that. Should I wake him?"

"is it time for pie yet?"

"I don't know, are you hungry?"

Jake nodded happily and said, "i could eat pie."

"Then we should probably wake him because I'm betting he could eat some pie too." Jim let his voice rise and sure enough, Blair wiggled a bit and yawned.

Blue eyes drifted open just as Jake got up on his hands and knees to peer into Blair's face. "you awake, daddy?" he whispered, his breath brushing against his father's face.

"Mmm," Blair stretched, yawned again and kissed Jake's nose. "Yep, I'm awake. Is it time for pie yet?"

"yup!"

"Well okay then, let's go."

Jake scrambled from the bed and as soon as he was sure his fathers would follow, he scampered out and ran into the living room, yelling, "daddy's up, daddy's up! time for pie!"

Smiling, Jim helped his mate out of bed. "You sure you're ready? Or could you use a longer nap?"

"Heck no. Just let me wash up a bit, okay? Go on out, get the whipping done and by the time those peaks are stiff, I'll be there."

"You just had to mention stiff peaks?"

Blair rolled his eyes and pointed to the door. Jim went, head hanging as he muttered, "He's the one who was sucking fingers, thank you very much."

(O)

"So how was the pumpkin pie, Hoss?"

"mmm-m good!" Jake said, as he licked every scrap of whipped cream from his spoon. Then he held out his plate to Jim and said as charmingly as possible, "i could even eat more!"

"I bet, but then there'd be none for after our turkey sandwiches tomorrow."

The plate was lowered back to the table slowly with apparent difficulty. Everyone at the table could see that Jake was preparing a rebuttal, the only question was; would it work?

"well," posed the four year old negotiator, "i don't need pie tomorrow and i do need more tonight." Then as if anticipating his parent's comeback, he added, "and a 'course, we could always make more pie -- we could do that."

Simon and Daryl turned toward Jim while Naomi looked at her son, all waiting....

Blair's lips twitched. Jim's nose wrinkled. Jim scratched his head. Blair sat back and waited while mentally counting -- one, two, three--

"Well," Jim, the almost forty (but deep down inside, eight) year old said, "I guess I could use another piece myself and I'm pretty sure that Simon was thinking about licking his plate and we could make another pie tomorrow -- so Sandburg, what do you say?"

"Sandburg," Simon interrupted, "do not include me in this thing."

Jake's head whipped around and he asked, eyes wide, "you mean you don't want another piece of pie, unca simon?"

Faced with those big innocent blue eyes, Simon huffed a bit and finally surrendered. "I didn't say I couldn't use another piece of pie -- exactly."

Triumphant, Jake turned and looked at his father expectantly.

Blair leaned forward and said as if no one had been discussing pie, "You know, I think I'll have another piece of pie. Jake, how 'bout you?"

"well, maybe just a small piece, daddy." Eyes sparkling, he held up his plate.

(O)

The games were over, the fire dwindling and four adults, one teenager and one preschooler sat happy and sated. Simon gazed about the room, eyes resting first on his fellow turkey revelers, then on his son. He had to admit that this had been one of the best Thanksgivings he could remember. And judging by Daryl's happy and contented expression, he felt much the same even if his mother couldn't be a part of the celebration. Simon checked his watch and sighed. Time to head out, let Blair get some rest and give the Ellison-Sandburg home some peace and quiet. He rose, albeit reluctantly, and with a nod to Daryl, said, "Son, I think we need to hit the road before we start eyeing the furniture as sleeping tools."

Daryl stood, which forced Jake to do likewise, since he'd been happily ensconced on the teen's lap.

"do you havta go, unca simon? you could stay in my room, you could."

"Thank you, Jake, but I'm afraid we do. But may I say that you've been the perfect host and dinner was delicious."

Jim and Blair had stood, as had Naomi, when Simon made his announcement and now Naomi came out of the kitchen, a foil-wrapped container in her hands. "Simon, I thought you and Daryl might enjoy a few leftovers, for tomorrow."

"Why thank you, Naomi, that's very thoughtful. Nothing better than turkey sandwiches the day after." He took the offered package and moved toward the door where Jim and Blair stood waiting, Jim holding out the appropriate jackets.

As the Banks' men slipped into them, Jake was hoisted up and into Jim's arms. With one arm draped over Jim's shoulder, he said, "happy thanksgiving, unca simon and daryl!"

"Happy Thanksgiving to you, Jake and thank you all again, it was one of the best days I can remember having."

"Ditto. And Jake, I'm holding you to your promise of teaching me how to race in Chocobo's dungeon, okay?"

"'kay! come over anytime and we can play and i have lots more games! and you can meet cherry too!"

"You got a deal, pal." Daryl held out his hand, palm up and Jake gave him a down slap.

Door open and cold autumn air rushing in, Jim offered, "Jake and I will walk you out, Simon."

"No, no, you two stay inside and keep warm. See you Monday, and Sandburg, you give me a call tomorrow when you finish at the doctor's, you hear?"

Blair gave his boss a mock salute, saying, "You betcha, Simon. Top of my list for tom--"

"Sandburg, can it."

"Yes, sir."

Laughing, Simon and Daryl pulled up the collars of their jackets and with last minute hugs and handshakes, headed out into the cold night. Jim remained at the door, Jake still in his arms, until Simon's car pulled away from the Anjasmayo. As the last of the headlights disappeared, Jim stepped back and shut the door. Turning, he observed, "Well, this has been a great day, guys."

Blair nodded his agreement and slipped his good arm around his mother's waist. "Have I mentioned, Mom, how glad I am that you were here?"

Giggling like a school girl, Naomi said, "I think it's been mentioned a time or two. And believe me, I wouldn't trade this day for anything. Thank you, honey, and you, Jim, and especially you, Jake, for the best Thanksgiving I can remember having."

Jake held out his arms and with little effort on Jim's part, he floated into Naomi's, saying, "and you were good, nomi, you ate all of your turkey leg!"

"Yes, I did, Jake. And now, I'm going to say goodnight and let you all relax. I have a few calls to make to some friends."

"Naomi, are you sure? It would be very easy to put up the Aero bed again."

"No, Jim, but thank you. But I'll see you on Saturday, right?"

"Right. I want to finish the closet upstairs, but I'll hold off on the painting."

"Great, then I'll see you all then. And Blair, to quote a wise man, namely your boss, I want a phone call tomorrow after your return from the doctor. Understood?"

Blair repeated his mock salute and grinned while Jim shook out Naomi's coat and picked up her overnight bag. "I'll walk you out, Naomi, and no, Jake, you stay here with daddy, okay?"

"kay, but only if i get a eskeeemo kiss."

Naomi rubbed noses with her grandchild and they hugged, then she let him down and slipped into the coat held out by Jim. With a kiss to her son, she and Jim walked out, Jim carrying her bag. As the door closed behind them, Blair said with mock severity, "All right, Master Jake, pajamas for you, pronto."

"okey-dokey," he happily proclaimed as he took off on the run, pulling up his shirt as he went.

"Put that shirt in hamper, young man," Blair called out, a grin on his face. He heard Jake change direction as he headed toward the bathroom and still grinning, Blair moved toward Jake's bedroom.

(O)

"I think there's time for one more story, but then bed, understood?"

"'kay," came the sleepy reply.

Jim dropped the first book and picked up the second, opened it and started reading from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. On the other side of the couch, Blair rested, listened, and watched through half-lidded eyes. He was exhausted and his shoulder hurt like a son-of-a-gun, but he'd be damned if he'd let Jim know.

(O)

"Bed. Now."

"Aw, Jim."

"Bed. Now. And no guff."

"But it's only nine, Jimmmmeeee."

"Sandburg, get that cute butt of yours up now."

"Oh, all right."

Jim helped his partner to stand, and together, they made their way to the bedroom. As Jim tenderly helped Blair undress and get into his sweat bottoms and tee shirt, the younger man said, "It was nice of mom to actually eat that turkey leg. I don't think she's had meat in years."

Jim draped the dreaded purple sling over the chair by the window, and as he striped down to his boxers and climbed in beside his mate, he said, "I know. I still can't believe she'd do that for Jake. But I will say -- she appeared to enjoy -- it."

"Well, it's not like she doesn't like meat, you know? It's a health thing."

Jim nodded absently as he started to wiggle, just like he'd been doing since Wednesday night.

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing, just --can't seem-- to get comfortable."

"Huh-uh."

Jim knew that "huh-uh". It was the sound of a man who thought he knew something he couldn't. Jim really hated that particular "huh-uh".

"Look, Sandburg, it's no big deal. I just can't get--"

"Comfortable. I know. It's the window."

"The window? I can't get comfortable because of the window? Listen Einstein, the window has always been in the same place, you know?"

"I know. But it's always been on this side."

Jim put a hand on Blair's forehead. "Well, you're not running a fever."

"Jim, Jim, Jim. The door is now on this side and the window is now on that side and you need the window on this side. Sheesh."

"Blair, dear, honey, sweet cheeks, pulse of my heart, love of my life, and somewhat mature boytoy -- you've lost your everlovin' mind."

"Sweetcheeks?"

"Best in the world. Both sets."

"I haven't lost anything. You need to be between me and the door, you doofus. It's your whole 'protect-the-mate schtick."

"I don't have a 'whole protect-the-mate schtick'. And what the hell does doofus mean, anyway?"

"According to Webster's, a doofus is James Joseph Ellison. And you do too have a protect-the-mate schtick. That's why you're uncomfortable, see? Because my left shoulder is injured, I'm on this side of you so we can snuggle. But that puts the window on that side and the door--"

"On this side, which is really that side because it's your side. I get it. But you're wrong."

"Huh-uh."

Damn, there it is again.

"Go to sleep, Sandburg."

"Huh-uh."

"You know, one of these days, I'm turning you in for a newer model."

"Huh-uh."

"You're right, you know."

"I know."

"I know you know. You always know."

"Especially when I'm right."

"Right."

"So you want to switch places? We don't have to cuddle, we can just lie in our usual spots and sleep. Then you'd be comfortable. After all, we don't need to sleep in each other's arms all the time."

"Well, I do, Chief. And I'd rather be uncomfortable in your arms then comfortable out of them."

Blair ran a hand down Jim's chest to his stomach as he moved impossibly closer. "I do believe, Jim, that you just said the single most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me. I think I love you, man."

Jerking his head back in order to look down at his partner, Jim said aghast, "You think you love me, Sandburg?"

"Well," Blair's hand crept under the waistband of Jim's shorts, "you are the one who's always threatening to turn me in on a newer model and you called me a 'mature boytoy'. That was really low, Ellison."

"Are you denying that you're--" Blair's hand was currently wrapped around Jim's rapidly growing dick and the older man had to close his eyes and fight for the rest of his words.

"...that you're -- mature? You're thirty -- now."

"So I'm too old to be a boytoy, is that what you're saying?"

"well -- we do have -- a -- oh yeah, there -- a son--"

"Huh-uh."

Now there was an "huh-uh" that Jim loved. That absentminded, my-hand-is-busy 'huh-uh'. Jim's absolute favorite. "I had -- no idea -- that you were - aw god -- ambidextrous."

"Well, my right hand is trapped against your chest, so I really have no choice," Blair murmured.

"Shit, tell me this --isn't-- hurting you?"

"Heh."

OHMAN -- Jim positively glowed when Blair said "heh" in just that way. Jim gave himself over to Blair's -- ministrations -- and settled down to allow Blair to do with him as he would.

(O)

It seemed like hours later, but was actually only fifteen or twenty minutes, and Jim was in Blairsated heaven. He was also looking forward to reciprocation as soon as Blair was feeling better.

"He asked about us going away, Jim."

"Wh'a?"

Blair gave a low chuckle. "Jim, I swear, it takes longer and longer for you to recover from these small -- episodes."

"Episodes? Uh? Hey, you are not an episode."

"Two great compliments in one night. I'm impressed."

"Sandburg -- who asked--"

"Jake. He wanted to make sure that we wouldn't leave him like Karen and Bluey."

Jim's breath caught. "What did you - tell him?" he managed to finally ask.

"That I had no plans, that neither one of us, had plans to leave if we could help it."

"Did that -- reassure him?"

"He was kind of caught up in the whole ducking issue so I explained what really happened and kind of shared about being shot before. I also told him how both of us have now been shot in our shoulders and legs and that kind of helped. Plus he understands the whole protect thy tribe thing and may I say -- better than you."

"Hell, I understand it. I just kind of figured that my macho mate might take offense."

"He does. Bet if I were six-five you wouldn't mind sleeping on the window side."

"Hell no. You'd be protecting me then. Man, talk about watching someone's back. If you were six-five, that's exactly where I'd be every minute -- behind you."

"So it is a short thing."

"I never said that. It's a --tall-- thing. I'm tall and you're -- less -- tall."

"Less tall? Less tall?"

"Um, yeah. Less. Er -- wait. Not less, you're definitely not less, not less of anything, but just not--"

"Tall?"

"Yeah. Tall."

"I'm tall compared to Jake. I'm tall compared to, say, a pygmy. I'm tall to Cherry."

Grinning, Jim bestowed a kiss on top of one curly-haired short man's head. "You're a giant to me, Chief."

"Well, fuck, now it's three nice things. I'll never catch up."

"Not to change the subject or anything, because you're right, you'll never catch up, but it was a great Thanksgiving, Chief."

"Yeah, yeah it was. And gee whiz, next month -- Christmas."

Jim gulped. "Christmas?"

"Yep. And Chanukah."

"Holy Jake's Christmas List, BatBlair."

The End - But to be continued in We Gather Together/Christmas, which will be posted in December.


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