Many thanks to feliciakw, who wrote a Sentinel ficlet (Said and Done) which inspired this story, and then talked me through the writing and revisions until it actually worked.
Rating: PG for language
Warnings: This is a future-fic, and includes an OFC some of you might remember from another story set in this universe (Scents of Celebration). Also, there is angst here.
Summary: Ten years of friendship, and there are still things Jim has never told Blair.
I welcome comments and concrit!
Coming To Terms
It felt wonderful to be on a floor of the hospital that wasn’t dedicated to illness or trauma. Blair Sandburg pondered this agreeable paradox as he strolled down the corridor at Cascade General, hands shoved into his pockets, taking his time.
The hard work had been over for a few hours. Apparently he’d been hovering, because Gina had finally shoved him away from the bedside and told him to go eat so he’d quit bouncing from the caffeine overdose. He’d agreed, and bent over to kiss her lips lightly. When he straightened, she smiled, and between the tired glow of her skin, the half-asleep droop of her eyelids, and the mess of dark hair around her face, Blair thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful. He’d never loved her so much.
He would probably still be standing there, staring, if she hadn’t narrowed her eyes and ordered him to “scram.”
Or if Jim, ensconced in a chair beside the hospital-issue bassinet, hadn’t snickered. “You’ve been here for at least ten hours, Chief. How about you let me take a turn watching out for the tribe?” His voice was light, but his eyes were serious. As usual, Jim wasn’t about to take “no” for an answer.
Blair had owed him that, anyway. After nine months of keeping sensory tabs on the growing baby in utero, and keeping tabs on the mother’s general well-being in the process, Jim hadn’t been anywhere nearby for the birth.
“Please,” Gina had said one night. She lay on her side, the only comfortable way to sleep at seven months, with Blair spooned behind her, one hand wrapping around to rest on her belly. “It’s been pretty amazing to watch what Jim can do, but . . . I’d really like to have just you and the doctor there. Do you think Jim would mind?”
Blair honestly hadn’t expected that.
Nor her added comment: “It’d probably be good if he wasn’t even in the waiting room. I mean–he could probably hear me from the basement, couldn’t he?”
That was true enough. All Blair could do was agree with her; after all, he wasn’t going to be doing any of the work. At least Jim seemed to understand. “Sandburg, it’s fine. Everyone needs their privacy. Just make sure you call me the second you’ve got that kid in your arms.”
Gina’s room was halfway down the corridor. Just before he reached it, Blair paused and closed his eyes. A nurse hurried past, rubber soles squeaking against the tile. Down the hall a woman screamed–there would be another child held by its parents in a few more minutes. From further down, almost inaudible to his non-Sentinel ears, came the fussing sounds of the babies already born.
And laughter. One male and one female voice, a couple as delirious with delight as Blair had been an hour ago.
As he still was.
I have a son. Chubby red face, tight waving fists, and a mess of dark hair that hadn’t decided yet whether it should wave like his mommy’s or curl like his daddy’s. I have a son!
Blair grinned, tugging back the part of himself that wanted to leap and dance and shout the words from the roof, and then kept walking.
The door to Gina’s room stood ajar, and everything seemed quiet within. Not wanting to wake her if she’d managed to fall asleep, Blair sidled into the room as silently as he could.
Yes, Gina was sleeping, blanket pulled up to her chin with one hand, the other curled next to her cheek. Blair watched her for a long moment. When he turned his head, he expected to find Jim watching him in return, ready with some quip about new fathers.
Jim was definitely there, right in the chair where Blair had left him, the tiny sleeping bundle cradled in the crook of his left arm. But he wasn’t watching Blair, and Blair got the bizarre feeling that Jim hadn’t even heard him enter the room. Jim’s focus was entirely on the baby, his right thumb smoothing the dark tangle that covered the little head.
Blair stood very still, crushing an urge to rush over and take his son back into his own arms. Nikolas James, despite the middle name, was a Sandburg. No. He would have hours and days and years to be Nikky’s father; he could give this moment to Jim.
Who was, in fact, doing this like he’d done it a million times before. Jim had always been gentle with children, always direct and protective. He’d make a better father than me, probably. Blair shrugged away the faintly rueful thought; it would be a shame if Jim never had any kids of his own, but he’d be a damn fine uncle to small Sandburgs, in the meantime. No waste there.
A long, shuddering, indrawn breath broke the quiet of the room. Stilling his hand against Nikky's head, Jim released the sigh and sagged a little deeper into the chair. Blair held his own breath; Jim blinked, and something caught the light as it slid down his cheek.
Blair had never seen his friend look like this. This wasn’t anything like the furious grief caused by Danny Choi’s death, though there had been tears then. It wasn’t the willing vengeance that Incacha’s murder demanded. It wasn’t even much like the stoic silence that Jim had displayed after Lila had died in his arms.
What the hell, Jim?
He must have made some sound of his own, because Jim’s head jerked up, one hand automatically going to his face in a casual rub across the eyes. You’re not fooling me, buddy.
“Blair.” The voice was typically Jim, controlled, held quiet for the sake of the mother and child dozing nearby. “Did you eat as Doctor Gina ordered?” Even a hint of humor there, if you hadn’t lived in the same space as Jim for six years, through fire and water and serial killers.
The eyes told all. Squinting just a little, the skin around them taut and tense. Still glistening.
Blair closed the door behind himself, and walked across the room. Instead of making noise by pulling another metal-legged chair across the hospital linoleum tile, he settled cross-legged on the floor in front of Jim’s seat and leaned back on his hands to look up at him. “Yes, Jim, I ate. I know better than to disobey a direct order, especially when she’s just delivered my son.” For a moment he wanted to snatch the words back. It was habit, this banter, but also a shield, and whether it was best or not, he was helping Jim hide behind it once more. Maybe that’s what he needs. Then something horrible occurred to him. Maybe Jim knows something I don’t. Maybe something happened, maybe . . . ?
“Is Nikky all right?” Blair blurted out, sitting up straight before he could even finish the thought to himself. Thus speaks the paranoid new father, he added silently, wondering at the shock of his own fears.
Jim glanced at him, clearly startled, and shook his head. “He’s more than all right, Chief. He’s healthy and he’s big. And damned if he doesn’t look like you, poor kid.”
Blair nodded, accepting the relief, and watched Jim resume the gentle stroking of Nikky’s curls. That was all the time it took for him to make up his mind. “Then what’s wrong?”
Jim didn’t answer. Not a word, not a denial, not a joke or a barb.
That scared Blair more than anything.
“Jim?” he ventured, after what seemed a long wait. “Jim, is there--is there something I don’t know yet? Did something happen today? Did something go wrong when I wasn’t around?”
Jim tried to smile, but only made it about halfway. “It wasn’t today. Don’t worry about it.”
The queasiness in Blair’s stomach soured into frustration. “Don’t give me that crap. If it wasn’t something to worry about, you wouldn’t be crying over my newborn son.”
Jim didn’t answer right away, but his silence didn’t feel as much like a rebuff as it had a few minutes earlier. He stroked Nikky’s hair, brushing lightly along forehead, cheek, and the tiny shell-like ear, and Blair waited. It couldn’t have been more than two minutes until Jim closed his eyes and sighed. His fingers curled lightly along the curve of Nikky’s tiny skull, and he kept his gaze (and probably all his other senses, Blair thought) fixed on the baby when he spoke.
“We were going to have a baby, Carolyn and me.”
The words were calm, matter-of-fact. If not for the faint hesitation before his ex-wife’s name, Blair might have bought the act. As it was, Jim had stopped there, and clearly needed some encouragement. “What happened? Did she change her mind?” Because it’s pretty damn obvious you never did.
Jim blinked slowly. “She was almost four months along. The doctors never figured out why she couldn’t carry him to term. Or if they did, she didn’t tell me.”
A hundred tiny things--awkward questions, moments of extreme caution about the unborn child, and Jim’s initial reluctance to become Gina’s personal baby monitor--fell into place like cultural clues to an old superstition. “Jim, I’m so sorry.” God, Jim, I didn’t know. I had no idea. “Why didn’t you tell me this a long time ago?”
Jim looked at him, eyebrows going up. “I never told anyone, Chief. It was our business. No one else’s.”
“Then why did you tell me now?” Blair raised one knee and wrapped his arms around it. “Other than the fact that I was pestering you to.”
“I don’t know.” Jim touched Nikky’s nose with one finger. “I didn’t have my senses when Carolyn was pregnant. Maybe if I had, I would have known him better, and then maybe I would have realized that--"
He broke off, absolutely still except for swift blinking to hold back the shine of tears.
. . . that something had gone wrong? That you were going to lose him?
“Realized what, Jim?” Blair made himself ask, to break the silence if for no other reason.
Jim shrugged, a small jerk of his shoulders. “That I would miss him. I never saw or held him, but I miss him. I didn’t figure that out till just now.”
Blair’s gaze wandered to his son’s contented face, eyes squeezed closed beneath that thatch of hair. One fist peeked from beneath the blankets, fingers with their tiny nails curled close beneath his chin. “It was a boy?” Like mine? Just the thought of what that would feel like took Blair’s breath away.
Jim nodded, as if about to explain, but instead he just closed his own eyes and sat there. Blair kept watching Nikky, counting every short breath and trying to remind himself that he was fortunate. That his son, so far, was just fine.
Why should I have it better than Jim? That’s so unfair.
But Blair couldn’t bring himself to be anything but relieved.
Jim spoke softly. “I came home from a really bad case one night. Maybe two months after it happened. It was supposed to be her night to cook, she’d had the day off. Instead she was sitting on the couch in the dark, crying. She wouldn’t say anything. I didn’t--I couldn’t--I just turned around and walked out of the loft. Went down the street and had dinner.” He cleared his throat. “She was gone a week later.”
“It’s not--" Blair began, then swallowed the rest. Just because Jim liked to take on more guilt than his fair share didn’t always mean he was wrong about it.
“Thanks, Chief,” Jim said dryly, as if he’d filled in the unspoken words on his own. “I don’t know, maybe if I’d had my senses, it would have been harder for me to ignore what she was going through. Maybe I’d have been a little less . . .”
“Insensitive?” Blair offered.
Jim glared at him.
“Sorry, man.” Blair smothered a grin behind his hand. “You know, Carolyn might appreciate it if you talked to her about this. You still keep in touch, don’t you?”
“It’s been ten years.” Jim shook his head. “She’s moved, she’s remarried. I don’t think she’d thank me for dragging this up. And if she hasn’t forgiven me already, I can’t imagine she’ll want to now.” He shifted position, sliding his right hand beneath Nikky’s head and laying the newborn flat along his lap. The little fist twitched, but otherwise the baby didn’t stir. “Honestly, Sandburg, what kind of a guy takes ten years to figure out something like this?”
“A normal one?” Blair suggested. As Jim rolled his eyes, Blair backpedaled. “Okay, okay, normal for you. Seriously, it might be that simple. You weren’t ready to deal with this before; now you are.” Blair scrambled to his feet and leaned against the arm of Jim’s chair, where he could get a better view of Nikky. They both watched him sleep for a couple of minutes before Blair couldn’t stand the quiet any longer. “You need to start having kids, Jim. Mine are going to need playmates.”
Jim didn’t even dignify that with a glance. “What, are you selling brood mares, Chief?”
Blair crossed his arms. “I’m sure there are plenty of women in Cascade who would love to have hero James Ellison father their child. Maybe they could even put up with said hero on a regular basis. You won’t know till you try.”
“Oh, I see, you’re just brushing up on your matchmaking skills. I suppose I can survive that, Yenta. You go right ahead.”
Nikky squirmed, trying to stretch within the snug blue blanket. “See, Jim, he agrees with me. How did that date with Cathy from Accounting go, anyway?”
“None of your business, that’s how.” Jim laid his own arms alongside of Nikky to keep him from rolling off, and cupped both hands around the little head. In spite of the comforting warmth, the squirming turned to snuffling, then a deeper breath and a high-pitched wail.
From across the room, Gina sighed. “Somebody going to bring him over here? I know you guys love him to pieces, but you can’t exactly feed him.”
Jim scooped up the squalling Nikky, who had now worked one hand free to wave uncertainly in the air, and deposited him in Blair’s arms. Blair bounced the baby, hoping to distract him as he carried him over to the bed. “Come on, buddy. Let’s go get the good stuff.”
Gina made a face at them both, but pushed herself more or less upright and reached for Nikky. As she settled him against her breast, he immediately stopped crying and started rooting. “Whoa, little one, slow down.” If anyone but the baby existed at that moment, you’d never know it, Blair thought.
When he glanced up, Jim was standing at the door. With a nod to Blair and a glance at Nikky–who was butting his head against his mother in a determined attempt to latch on–Jim ducked out and closed the door.
Blair settled onto the edge of the bed and watched the little comedy of errors as Gina tried to get Nikky’s wobbly instincts to match up with reality. His very first lesson in surviving the big, scary world. Finally, he quieted, and Gina sighed with relief. The fluorescent hospital lighting dulled colors, flattering no one in the room, but Blair could have sworn that both mother and baby rested in their own soft glow.
“Jim needs this,” he said quietly.
Gina smiled. “Yes, he does.” When Blair didn’t add anything, she glanced up at him. “There’s a story behind that, isn’t there? Do I get to hear about it?”
“Maybe later.” Blair pushed tendrils of dark hair out of her face, and leaned over to rest his forehead against hers. “I’m enjoying this right now.” A smacking sound made them both snort with laughter.
Gina sighed, a long, slow, contented breath. Then she turned her head against Blair’s and whispered in his ear, as if it were a secret, “Hey. We have a son.”
“Yep. We do.” Blair slid his arm around her shoulders. You will, too, Jim, he thought, remembering how confidently his friend had held his son. Someday. Even if Gina and I do have to play yenta. You’ll have your turn.