a/n: There's hardly any traffic on this darn thing and only one review from a friend. Why I bother to continue with this is beyond me. I had most of this chapter written ahead of time, so there's probably going to be a MUCH longer wait for chapter 3, not that anyone's holding their breath in anticipation.
Morning always came too soon after so little sleep. The clock radio cutting through whatever groggy dreams he'd been having, Pete woke to feeling another body lying beside him—something he wasn't quite sure he'd ever get perfectly accustomed to. Even by the time he turned the alarm off, Jim was still blissfully asleep, with the slightest grin hanging on the corners of his mouth.
"You better be dreamin' about me," Pete said to the sleeping face. Jim's long, black eyelashes fluttered slightly in response, and he let out a few incoherent noises as Pete rolled out of bed, taking care not to disturb his partner.
In the bathroom mirror he squinted at his reflection. Too many mornings he'd stood there in the same way, his regret showing on his face more clearly than the soft blonde stubble. But this morning, and all the mornings after Jim had stayed the night, was completely different. Somehow that sinking feeling of having made an embarrassingly bad decision the night before was totally absent. Somehow, something about the young man in his bed, sleeping away the morning, even drooling a bit on Pete's pillow, made him feel so happy.
And how could that be? How could doing everything wrong seem so right? He couldn't begin to answer questions like that, and as he put on his shaving cream, he instead tried to think about the night before, or the day ahead of them. It would be a typical day, a routine patrol if they were lucky. Being bored on a job like theirs was always a little better than running into a ton of thrills, and after walking in on a 211 last night, he wasn't sure he was up for more of that sort of fun.
Shaving out of the way, he brushed his teeth and returned to the bedroom to find Jim with the covers pulled over his face.
"C'mon, we're gonna be late for roll call," Pete said.
Jim whined and tried to turn over.
"Uh-uh, time to get up," Pete peeled back the covers with little fight, gazing fixedly over Jim's trim, athletic body in all its morning glory.
"Hi," Jim sighed, smiling, rubbing his eyes, and stretching his long legs.
"You were dreamin' about me after all," Pete teased, shamelessly letting his eyes linger.
"Oh." Jim groaned and tried to cover himself back up.
"The rest of you needs to get up, too." At the lack of response, he added, "In a few minutes it's not just gonna be the clock radio, I'm gonna push the hi-fi in here and crank it up to full blast."
"Can I borrow your shaving brush?" Jim mumbled, finally sitting up, leaving the sheet bunched in his lap.
"You're never gonna remember to bring yours, are ya?" Pete said, taking Jim's hand and urging him to stand, giving him a dumb kiss on the cheek when he was in his arms. He savored feeling Jim's nude, awake body so close, even if he had to tell himself that there just wasn't time to take advantage of the situation.
"Jean said I should probably just buy one to leave over here," Jim replied, returning the kiss.
"…Jean?" Hearing the name in such a moment threw Pete off balance. "She did?"
For her to tell him that meant that he had to have told her a little something, too. And, knowing Jim's big mouth, the shaving brush probably wasn't the only thing he was talking about. In the past few weeks, Pete hadn't gone out of his way to ask a lot about the marriage counselor, let alone Jean. He didn't figure it was that important, or else Jim surely would've talked about it. But there was a lot Jim didn't tell him, he knew. He kept a lot of things bottled up. There was a lot more to him than he often cared to show, a lot more going on behind those pretty blue eyes than anyone ever knew about. It was one of the things that was so captivating about him, and something that Pete, in that moment, began to fear might just prove to be quite a problem.
"Okay, well," Pete forced a smile and gave Jim a hard pat on the back. "Go, uh, get cleaned up."
Jim studied his face, probably picking up quick that there was something on Pete's mind.
"Yeah…" Jim said softly, keeping a worried eye on him. As he disappeared into the bathroom, Pete sat back down on his bed and told himself he was going to get dressed. But he hesitated instead, thinking about that look Jim had given him.
So he was telling Jean about things that he did while he was with Pete, huh? And just what was he telling her? Grudgingly picking a pair of clean-looking pants out of the hamper, Pete tried to guess. Hopefully it was only tales about using Pete's shaving brush morning after morning, but knowing Jim, there was no telling whether Jean was subjected to crap like, "When I plow in there at the right angle I can make 'im moan like you never heard."
When Jim returned from the bathroom, he sat next to Pete on the bed and pressed his cheek against Pete's, sighing softly at the feeling of the freshly-shaved faces touching each other.
"I never asked you," Pete slowly began, stepping into the pants and turning away as he continued to dress. "About that marriage counselor stuff."
"It's going well," Jim replied, sounding like it had been something he'd wanted to talk about for quite some time now. "Really well." He opened a dresser drawer and he struggled to decide between the two shirts he'd left at Pete's so he didn't have to wear the same clothes to work the morning after.
"Yeah?" Pete prompted.
"For a while there, I wondered if Jean and I were ever gonna speak again. It was really looking like we were gonna get divorced."
Pete let the words soak in. "You aren't going to?" A sinking feeling began to settle upon him, although at the moment he couldn't quite pinpoint the source of the deja-vu.
"I dunno," Jim said. "Jean would have to find a job and we'd have to look into selling the house before we made any solid plans."
Perhaps more hopeful than he should have been, Pete perked up and spun around, grinning wildly at the thought. "You wanna stay here until then?"
"Well," Jim blushed. "I mean, it might start to look a little questionable if we always showed up at the station together."
"Brinkman and Sanchez carpool," Pete replied, still not entirely sure why he suddenly felt so overwhelmed by what Jim was saying.
"But what'll your neighbors think about my car being here all the time? You really think Mrs. O'Brien isn't gonna say something?" Jim didn't sound antagonizing. It seemed to be sincere concern.
"You could give Jean the car. You could park on the street down the block," Pete tried, knowing how stupid and pathetic he must've sounded, and hating himself for it the longer he went on.
Jim smiled and shook his head. "Pete, you know I'd move in with you in a heartbeat, if I could. But… don't worry, okay? I'm sleeping in the guest room and Jean spends most of her time at her sister's place. We're hardly even a couple anymore. We're more like roommates."
"I'm not worried about that," Pete said, honestly. "I just…"
And he couldn't say it. Slowly, the memories came back to him, even without the party atmosphere and half a six-pack in him. Running his tongue over his broken tooth, he knew why it bothered him that things were getting better between Jim and Jean. It hadn't been the first time in his life he was ready to ask someone to leave their spouse. It hadn't been the first time he felt strongly enough...
He pushed the thought away quickly and shook his head. "Well, I'm glad things are working out," he lied.
"Yeah," Jim said, finishing the last button on his shirt and smiling warmly. "So am I."
The ride to the station was quiet, and they split up before roll call, each going off to do their own thing before they'd spend another eight hours together. The latter action had come naturally to them. Perhaps instinctively they both knew that if they spent a solid twenty-four hours together they'd be at each other's throats by the end of patrol, and it also helped to give the impression at the station that they weren't, in fact, going to go home after watch and have passionate albeit occasionally nervous sex.
After they changed into uniform and Jim wandered off to do whatever it was he did by himself at the station, Pete made his way to the break room, pouring a cup of coffee and sitting alone at a table to drink it and study a previously-read paper.
This particular morning, as Pete settled in to enjoy his few minutes of silence before he'd be at Jim's side for the duration of the day, another body warmed the seat across from him, and leaning charmingly over the table said, "Having some coffee with your cream, I see."
The voice was a new one, and Pete laid down the paper to get a glimpse at its owner.
She was pretty and chesty, and wore a smile, a blonde updo and a badge so polished it glimmered brilliantly under the fluorescent lights.
"You're the senior lead officer, aren't you?" she asked him. "I'm Janette Vera. I'm 'on loan' from Juvenile and I'm going to be conducting some PR meetings at some schools in your area."
Pete gladly shook her hand over the table, recalling having heard the name mentioned at a previous roll call, but pleased to see that this Officer Vera turned out to have a much more impressive bust than another Vera he'd known at the academy.
"Pete Malloy," he introduced himself, checking her ring finger before he was aware of what he was doing. Not that it mattered with Jim around, of course, but he'd been doing it for so many years, he wasn't sure he'd ever break the habit.
"I had no idea Central Division was so busy," she commented, eager to make conversation with the superior officer.
"We have our moments," he said, folding the paper and shifting in his seat so that he was sitting in such a way that his bicep was in plain view every time he lifted his coffee to his lips. Even if he was with Jim now, nobody at the station knew that, and it wouldn't hurt to make sure every policewoman on duty knew he meant business.
Vera, to her credit, seemed to be more interested in the insignia on his shoulder than the arm beneath it, and she blushed at the attention the seasoned officer paid to her.
"I can't say how thrilled I am to be working with Juvenile. There's a lot of good work that gets done in that division, you know? We're going with Narco around to some high schools to give a drug awareness lecture. Anyway, this is my first PR assignment and I'm not sure what to expect."
"High school, huh?" he repeated. "If you looked like me, those punks would tear ya up. But a pretty gal like yourself ought to get their attention."
The compliment elicited no reaction, and she continued unfazed. "Oh, good. I've heard high schools can be difficult. When they're in grammar school, kids still want to be policemen when they grow up, but give 'em a few years and they start feeling a little differently."
"Hey!" the door to the break room swung open. Jim and Brinkman poked their heads in. Grinning, Brink said, "You two coming to roll call or should we let the lieutenant know you've made prior arrangements?"
"Oh!" Vera looked at her watch. "I had no idea we'd been talking so long!"
As they trotted out of the break room, Jim fell behind Brinkman and Vera, touching Pete on the elbow to get his attention.
"Just how long were you talking?" he asked, his voice low and serious.
"Let's try to get through roll call without any seething jealousy, okay?" Pete said, irritated that Jim had the nerve to call him out yet again for simply talking to a woman, especially after their conversation this morning.
Jim said nothing for the duration of roll call, stewing silently until they were in the car, pulling out from the lot, and cleared.
"So, you met that policewoman from Juvenile," he began again, treading softly on what Pete guessed could be the beginnings of a big argument.
"I did," Pete replied, straight-faced. "I tell ya what, there's something about rookies that makes a guy feel a little sentimental."
"Sentimental, sure," Jim said. "Especially when they're blonde and have a 38-inch bust."
"I think I prefer brunettes," Pete tried to appease him, smiling sweetly. "And a 32-inch waist."
"Pete, I wear a 31," Jim rolled his eyes.
"Christ, you're skinny," Pete said.
"You're trying to change the subject, aren't you?" Jim pouted.
"Yup," Pete replied, training his eyes on the road the moment Jim started to make a face like that. Between Jean and Vera, Jim's topics of conversation seemed as of late to revolve entirely around women, and Pete wanted to talk about neither the wife nor the police officer.
"Okay, fine," Jim sighed. "Change the subject, then."
Pete grinned, trying to think of something, anything else to talk about. Only one thing came to mind, and as Jim started to fidget at the silence, he decided to risk bringing it up. "So, uh, how do you feel about what happened last night?" he started, knowing Jim could figure out what he was referring to.
Jim scoffed and shook his head. "Weren't you the one who said we shouldn't talk about that while we're on patrol?"
"Yeah, you're right," Pete said, not sure what else he wanted to talk about.
After a minute of uncomfortable silence, Jim began to fidget and gave in. "I uh, I liked it," he said.
"Yeah?" Pete perked up.
Jim nodded. "It was… different."
"Different good or different bad?" Pete asked.
Jim shrugged, leaning his weight on the door's arm rest and gazing out his window.
"Well," Pete had hoped it would be easier for Jim to talk about. "If you want to just keep doing it the way we have been…"
"No," Jim said, sternly. "No, it's fine."
"If you don't want to—,"
"No, Pete," Jim smiled shyly. "Really, I liked it. It was just, you know, a little different."
"How different?" Pete insisted.
"You know what it feels like!" Jim laughed. "I guess what I really liked…"
After a few moments of concentrated thought, Jim blushed and squirmed in his seat. "You know, maybe we should talk about something else."
That would be typical of him, Pete thought, shaking his head and trying not to roll his eyes. Get himself all worked up just from talking about it, like he was 14 instead of almost 24. But he couldn't blame the guy. It was exactly why Pete usually knew better than to talk about personal stuff at work.
Interrupting his thoughts, the radio chatter started up again. "1-Adam-12, a 211 just left. See the man, 2794 West Wheeler Street."
Jim sat up straight in his seat and took a long, deep breath before acknowledging the call.
"Are ya gonna be alright by the time we get there?" Pete asked him.
"Yeah," Jim said sharply, rolling down the window and leaning into the breeze.
The address brought them to a little coffeehouse with a big gods-eye painted right over the door. Without being too obvious, Pete eyed Jim on the way in, knowing it was likely that nobody would even notice if he was still in a state, but concerned about his partner's ego nonetheless.
The building's interior matched the paint job outside, and the few patrons, with stringy long hair and clothes made of natural fibers, fit in perfectly.
One of the group stood up and approached the officers. "My name's Andy Feltz, I run the place and I'm the one who called you guys."
"I'm Malloy, my partner's Jim Reed," Pete nodded to Jim. "Would you mind stepping outside with me while my partner talks to the other witnesses?"
"Oh sure, man, I figured that's what you'd wanna do so I made sure nobody talked to each other or nothing. You know, keep everything all fresh and unadulterated in their minds, like," Feltz said. He absentmindedly twisted a piece of his beard between his fingers as he spoke. Jim gave Pete a long, weary look as they headed out. Pete hadn't meant to pawn the patrons off on him, but as he thought about it he wished he would've stayed inside instead.
Jim was a tough cop, Pete told himself, he could handle it even if he was having a hard time. Pete knew he couldn't let Jim off easy just because he was tired from last night and weary from thinking about it again in the car.
Once they were outside, Feltz sighed and began. "Now, I don't want you getting the wrong impression about this place," he said. "Ordinarily I don't want a lot of contact with you guys but I want to cooperate because this is really important to me, okay?"
"That's a good way to look at it," Pete said, unfazed. "Now, you wanna tell me what happened?"
"Sure, man, sure. Well, uh, it was just like I told 'em on the phone. He comes in swinging a knife at me and some of the folks, sayin' he's gonna cut us up if we don't give him all the cash we had."
"And you gave him the money from your till?" Pete asked, slowly filling in the details on his notepad.
"Of course!" Feltz said. "This is supposed to be a safe place. I don't want anybody getting hurt, even if it means I gotta give up about $85."
"How long ago did this happen?"
"Oh, it couldn't have been more than half an hour or so."
"You seem pretty calm," Pete commented.
"I'm not spooked or nothin'," Feltz said. "I'm just sad, really. I mean, Danny's a good guy."
"You know the man who held you up?" Pete asked.
"Yeah," Feltz shrugged, "The guy's a patron here. A regular. His name's Danny Montoya. Some guys call him Monty, if that's any help to you."
"What's he look like?"
"Let's see, he's got black hair, brown eyes, I think. Kinda messy skin, like he had bad zits when he was younger." Feltz continued to twist on the beard as he spoke. "Stands about, uhh, 5'6 or 5'7, I guess. I don't know how much he weighs, but he's a lot skinnier than he used to be."
"Do you have any idea why Montoya would want to hold you up, Mr. Feltz?" Pete prompted.
"Heh, mister, I like that. Not a lot of folks call me mister." At Pete's silence, he coughed and continued, "Well, I do know. Danny's always been a clean guy. He was like me, he never did anything harder than…" he paused to glance from Pete's eyes to his badge. "Well, none of the hard stuff. I mean, Danny didn't even smoke grass. But a few months ago he starts acting all weird. I had no idea, I thought he was on the sauce or something, until I got a look at those track marks on his arms."
"You think he needed his fix today?" Pete shook his head at the familiar, tragic tale.
"You said it. He got laid off a while back and I guess he just ran out of money or something," Feltz said. "Look, I mean, I'm not trying to bust the guy's chops or anything. I even felt so bad for him I was giving him his java for free. But you know, $85 is a lot of dough. More important than that, I don't want to see anybody getting hurt. It was a knife today, but who knows when it's gonna be a gun."
Pete nodded, half-listening to the commentary. "Yes, Mr. Feltz. Do you have any idea where we might be able to find Montoya?"
"Hmm," Feltz pondered. "I know he was staying in some single-occupancy joint a while back. Vermont Inn or something like that. There's no tellin' where he is now."
"Well," Pete wrapped up his notes. "We'll put out our report and the detectives'll take over from there."
"Hey, let 'em know, won't you?" Feltz finally released the beard and laid a hand on Pete's arm. "Go easy on him. He's a good guy, he's just making some bad choices. I care about the guy a lot, okay?" His eyes began to shine a bit as he spoke. "I mean, I care about him. He's more than a friend to me. I wanna see him get clean more than anything else."
"Yeah," Pete said solemnly. "We'll let 'em know."
They continued their patrol after putting Montoya's description on the air, silence hanging heavily over them. Jim was almost as quiet as the radio after taking the report at the coffeehouse, saying nothing else unless Pete directly asked him a question. When they stopped a car with a tail light out, Jim spoke to the driver as if it was a perfectly typical day and he had nothing on his mind, but as soon as they returned to the black and white, the silence remained.
At the very least, Pete told himself, if Jim was moody today, he was handling it well while on duty. Just because they didn't talk in the car didn't mean that he wasn't doing his job correctly. Indeed, the few times they rolled with other partners, there would always be comments about how chatty the both of them were. If other partners didn't feel the need to have a steady flow of dialogue, why should they?
The difference was that they weren't like other units, Pete continued to mope. Even to the ignorant observer, they were closer than most partners, having openly formed a bond beyond friendship. Sure, it was common to spend time with one's partner outside of work, but Pete often wondered if there weren't any rumors about them. At least he'd yet to see any slanderous graffiti in the men's room. As long as he never read "the Strawberry Fox takes it in the ass" scrawled between the urinals, everything was fine.
It must have made him uncomfortable, Pete finally realized as he studied Jim's bored expression from the corner of his eye, to talk about the night before while they were on patrol. Sex was something that was still somewhat of an uncharted territory for Jim. Pete knew no amount of pressure could ever get Jim to admit it, but he wondered exactly how many times he'd even slept with Jean. Sometimes in moments of heaviest conversation, Jim had let slip small tidbits of the truth about himself, that he'd never been attracted to women in the slightest, that he'd had to force himself to be with Jean even on their honeymoon…
Pete couldn't comprehend such a mindset. Liking men or not, how could anyone not like women, too? Even with Jim sitting just a few inches away, he easily let his mind wander back to the morning's conversation with Officer Vera—he couldn't remember a damn word she'd said, but he could remember the way her impressive bust had made her badge and name tag stand out at a sharp angle. It puzzled him to think that Jim was so decidedly attracted to men. Not even men, just him. After all, he'd never made a peep about any other man, or anybody else at all. It was all Pete, and only Pete.
With that in mind, Pete kept on eye on Jim moping and pouting on the other side of the car and decided it was time to get him to speak up. Maybe Jim was uncomfortable talking about sex, but he needed to learn to get over it.
"Let's get something to eat," he said, sternly.
"I'm not hungry," Jim sighed.
"You're always hungry," Pete argued. "You wanna eat at the station?"
It took everything in him to keep from yelling at the young man for being so moody. Instead he pointed at the radio and ordered, "Go ahead, request it."
Jim gave him a brooding look but did as he was told, mumbling so bad the dispatcher asked him to repeat the request twice.
"Boy, that place sure was something," Jim finally started up as they settled into the break room over their lunches. Tearing through the tin foil and getting a good whiff of some hot chorizo seemed to coax the words out a little easier.
"How do you figure?" Pete asked him, hoping that Jim's silence hadn't been because of their earlier conversation.
"Well, usually you go into a place like that and nobody wants to talk to ya at all," Jim said.
"It's like Feltz said, he's looking out for a friend," Pete replied.
"Still," Jim seemed to be enjoying the sound of his own voice after such a long period of quiet. "I just wish more people were like that. You know, talking to us like we're regular guys even if they don't like what we do for a living."
"Same old song," Pete sighed.
"I mean it, Pete! People get the wrong idea about individual officers because of things that go down with the department as a whole." Jim paused for a moment, stared deeply into his burrito, and dared, "Like that Black Cat thing."
"Black Cat thing?" Pete repeated, slowly.
"Yeah… I talked to Brink about it this morning."
"Oh, you did, did you?" So that's what Jim had been up to before roll call.
"I don't understand how you could forget something like that," Jim spat, sounding frustrated. His grip on the burrito caused some of the filling to squish out the top. "Especially being the way we are."
"Maybe it was something I wanted to forget," Pete said dismissively, wishing Jim would just get over it already and stop ruining his food. It didn't seem like he'd gotten the full story from Brinkman, or at least the part that he was concerned about, and if he was lucky Jim would be satisfied with what he'd heard. At the intense stare he was still getting, Pete tried, "It's a dark spot on the department's record, and like you said, being the way we are it's not something I like to think about all that often."
"I guess that makes sense," Jim surrendered.
"I'm glad you can see it that way," Pete replied sternly. "Finish eating so we can get back on the road."
Jim peeled back the tortilla and muttered something under his breath.
"Look, I know you're dying to talk about it, but you're just gonna have to drop it, okay?" Pete tried.
"Aw, come on, Pete!" A single bean rolled over Jim's knuckles and landed on the table.
"What did I just say?" Pete growled.
"Yes, sir," Jim sighed.
Pete stiffened at the word. "And don't call me sir." Before they'd been together, it had only been routine. But there was something that rubbed him the wrong way about it. He couldn't bear to romanticize or sexualize the official title. "I don't give a shit if I'm your superior officer. If nobody else is around, don't ever call me sir."
"Alright," Jim crumpled his napkin. "Let's talk about something else, then." He let out a heavy breath, cooling down quickly. "What do you want to do after patrol today?"
"I don't know," Pete shrugged. "I'd like to go home and take a nice long nap, maybe."
"A nap?" Jim groaned.
"Aren't you still a little sore from yesterday?"
Jim shrugged and studied his mutilated lunch. "It's not that bad."
"Mmhmm," Pete said. "You know, it's been a while for me but I still remember what it feels like after your first time."
Jim looked back up at him and smiled softly. "I'm fine, Pete, really. Maybe it's gonna hurt a little bit if we get into a foot pursuit. But I want to do it again. Not tonight, but soon."
Jim's obvious eagerness to please him was just too much. It was true indeed that Pete remembered what it had been like his first time, and he knew that it wasn't only a foot pursuit that would make it ache. He'd seen the way Jim gingerly lowered himself into his seat, wincing on the way down, and he knew that no amount of pestering would get him to admit how much it really did bother him. Somehow in Jim's twisted mind, it was better to keep smiling and telling Pete it was great, when surely he knew that if it was the other way around, Pete would be openly griping, "This hurts, damn it."
It was too much to think about in that moment. Not while they were on the clock. He finished the last bite of his sandwich and gave Jim a hard pat on the shoulder.
"Let's get back on the road," he said decisively, trying to keep himself in line as much as Jim.
"How about the beach?" Jim pushed onward as Pete cleared up their table and headed into the hallway. "It's a great day to go to the beach!"
"Oh, and I'm sure it'll be a beautiful sunset," Pete replied, unlocking his gun from its slot.
"So? Let's go!"
"Don't you have a wife to get home to?" he rolled his eyes as he said it, praying it would blow over but knowing it was already too late.
Jim stared at him in awe. "So that's what's been bugging you?" he was practically whispering.
"Amongst other things," Pete shrugged. "Look, you want to do something after watch today? Fine. You come up with something and you surprise me, okay?"
The strange look lingered for a few minutes as they strode down the hall and out into the lot. It stayed even as they buckled their seatbelts and until they made it out of the lot. Pete wondered if Jim would ever speak again. As quiet as he'd been all day, it had been quite pleasant to hear Jim babble again.
Finally Jim let out a heavy sigh and put on a smile, and he eagerly said, "Okay, Pete, I've got it."
"Yeah?" Pete prompted.
"But it's a surprise," Jim said. "I'll drop you off after patrol and then, uh, go home and get changed, and then we're gonna go out."
Jim continued to smile as he shook his head.
"So that's how it's gonna be, huh?" Pete began to smile, too, and bit his tongue to keep from adding, as long as you're happy.
Still smiling for the duration of the day, Jim did exactly as he said, driving to Pete's apartment but staying in the car as Pete got out.
"I'll be back in a few minutes. Maybe half an hour at the most," Jim leaned from the window and spoke.
"Just come on up and let yourself in, I guess." Pete folded his arms and bent over to meet Jim's eyes. "I'll be ready for you, whatever it is you have in mind."
"I'm not gonna walk in and find you napping on the couch, am I?" Jim asked. "We're going out, remember?"
"I wish you'd tell me more than that," Pete sighed.
Jim made like he was zipping up his lips, and then, perhaps being especially concerned about security as a police officer, he also mimed turning a key in a lock over his lips, tossing the imaginary key over his shoulder afterward.
"Yeah, okay," Pete grinned in such a way that he knew would elicit a roll of the eyes and a heavy sigh.
When Jim was gone he headed upstairs and shuffled about to get ready, knowing that no matter how hard he tried to convince him otherwise, Jim would insist that they go out after all.
Quickly, he changed out of his clothes and took a short shower, not sure if it was necessary depending on whatever Jim had in mind. When he was stepping out and drying off he could hear the front door slamming shut. As an arresting officer who'd been threatened with revenge enough times, his heart always skipped a few beats to hear a noise like that, but tiptoeing out of his bathroom he could hear Jim clucking to himself, waiting in the living room.
"In here," he called out his bedroom door, reluctantly drying off. The look on Jim's face as he peeked around the corner made him chuckle out loud.
"Come on, get dressed!" Jim ordered, crossing his arms.
"I've got a better idea," Pete draped the damp towel over his shoulders and sat on the edge of his bed, smiling tiredly and gesturing with a bent finger for Jim to join him.
"Nah-ah," Jim shook his head and threw open a dresser drawer, grabbing a neatly folded shirt and tossing it into Pete's arms.
"Alright, alright," Pete half-buttoned the shirt and stuffed himself into the same pants he'd worn earlier. "How's about telling me what we're doing this afternoon?"
"We're gonna go for a stroll in the park," Jim stared at his feet and grinned the same way he did when he had an excellent hand of cards.
"That's what all this fuss is for?" Pete knew it wouldn't be hard to get out of Jim what he was bluffing about.
The blue-eyed gaze returned to him, and with delight, he said, "Okay, I'll show you."
Letting Jim hold him by the wrist and lead him out of his own room, Pete couldn't imagine what the young man had in mind.
But he figured it out quick when Jim spoke into the living room, "Hey, are you ready to go?"
Silently waiting on the couch, still buckled into his car seat, was Jim Reed, Junior.
Pete gazed bemusedly at the baby at first, and could feel himself visibly frowning. His disappointment must have shown much more clearly than he thought, because a moment later Jim spat, "What's that look for?"
"What look?" Pete tried, knowing it was useless.
"Aw, come on, Pete! What's wrong with Jimmy?" Antagonizing him further, Jim added "Aren't you happy?"
"Hap-…" Pete clenched his fists in frustration, mostly at himself for being unable to find the right words. "How are we supposed to do anything with him here?"
"What did you have in mind that we can't do with Jimmy here?" Jim folded his arms and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Pete rolled his eyes. "What do you think? Are we supposed to leave him out here while we…" he glanced at the baby warily, as if he expected that somehow Jimmy could understand what was being discussed.
Jim seemed to get the idea nonetheless. "Well, shoot, earlier you made it sound like you didn't even want to do that!"
"I didn't say that, I said I was worried that you wouldn't want to because of last night!" he hated raising his voice with Jimmy in the room.
The baby studied the two men and contemplatively chewed on his fingers.
Pete continued, "Why would you even bring him over here?"
"Why?!" Jim threw up his arms at the question. "Why?! He wants to know why!"
"Jim, god damn it," Pete sighed, exasperated.
Shaking his hands in front of him, Jim raved. "Well? What do you think, we're gonna hide it from him until he's an adult that we're together? He's gotta know that you're a part of his life because you're a part of my life."
"So, you're gonna bring him over to my apartment and leave him sittin' on the couch while we're screwin' in the next room?" Pete's voice was surprisingly more bitter than he intended.
"No, Pete!" Jim's face was reddening the angrier he got. "I mean, he'll know that you're going to be there for him, like I am. We'll take him out to the park and the beach, and stay home and watch TV with him." A small, faint smile crossed Jim's face briefly and his voice softened as he said, "You can help him with his homework and play catch with him."
Pete was absolutely aghast at what he heard. He could hardly process it. The way it made him feel was such a nebulous knot of confusion, there was no way he could tell Jim what it was like. Jim wasn't saying it outright, and perhaps it was just his imagination, but that little teasing jab at fatherhood… it wasn't bad, necessarily, but it wasn't for him, either. And it wasn't something he was willing to have thrust upon him without consent.
He tried, "And just how does Jean feel about this, huh? How does Jean feel about you bringing her baby over to play house with your 37-year-old patrol partner? The one that you're cheating on her with, no less."
Jim's face crumpled in anger and shame. "He's my son, too, Pete!"
"Well," Pete snarled. "He's not mine!"
That was the final straw for Jim. He turned violently and snatched up Jimmy's car seat, storming silently to the door.
"And now you're running off to pout like you always do," Pete tried, hoping it would piss him off enough to get him to turn around.
Jim ignored him and headed for the stairs with Jimmy in his arms.
Pete followed him through the door. "Damn it, Jim, come back here!" his heart was racing. He could finally feel it after this whole time, rattling against his ribcage so hard it made his teeth chatter.
"Forget it, Pete!" Jim finally called back to him from the first floor as he got Jimmy locked into the back seat. "I'm sorry I bothered coming over at all!"
"For God's sake, Jim!" All at once the sharp anger had softened into a pleading tone that he hadn't at all expected.
He leaned heavily over the banister and watched Jim's car drive away.
Mrs. O'Brien, who had been standing outside below him the whole time, squinted up at him. With a kinked hose she was watering an enormous jade plant that was so gnarled and overgrown it hardly bore any resemblance to the lovely little succulents that could be cultivated in a dainty little pot. Most of the juicy, thick leaves had been torn up by birds and the Mulrano kids, and Pete had advised the apartment manager several times to put the horrible plant out of its misery with a gallon or two of Round-Up.
Switching off the water, she smiled up at him and said, "Well, Peter, that was quite a show."
He turned, offended, and lurched inside.
"You sure seem to have a knack for sending them running out screaming and yelling," she continued to tease. "At least this one wasn't in tears."
"Mind your own fucking business," he told the old woman as he slammed the door.