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Title: The Baby Owner's Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance 1/2
Author: Pip
Pairing: Richard/James
Rating: A bare PG-13 for language.
Word Count: Both parts, 11,000
Warning: I'd better warn you that this is my first TG fic, and it is, sadly, porn-free. Also, baby!fic, if that's not your thing. :D
Disclaimer: Don't know 'em, never met 'em, this is all lies. (*sigh*) Title and chapter headings stolen directly from the book of the same name, written by Louis Borgenicht and Joe Borgenicht.
Summary: Richard and James adapt, but do they adopt?
Feedback: All feedback and concrit most gratefully received.

Written for my darling [livejournal.com profile] giddy_london, who asked for James and Richard as newbie!daddies. Here it is, bb, I hope this does the trick. :D

Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] tigertale7, who has enabled cheered me on through the whole thing. This fic wouldn't be the same without her valuable beta skills, and a fantastic (and fast!) Britpick by [livejournal.com profile] sunsetmog. Thanks, ducklings.

First posted Sept, 2008



Chapter One: Welcome To Your New Baby - Diagram and Parts List


"Richard?" James shouted. "Richard!" His voice held an odd note of worry.

"It's just a bit of sand," Richard mumbled, curling up under the duvet. "I'll clean it up later."

"RICHARD!"

He opened his eyes, squinting at the early morning light. Okay, that had sounded like outright fear. Even James wasn't afraid of a pile of sand on his kitchen floor. Besides, it wasn't Richard's fault--if Clarkson hadn't thrown up that rooster tail out at the Pendines and practically buried him, James's floor would still be spotless. "What?" he shouted.

"HELP!"

Richard scrambled out of bed. James's voice was never that panicky. What if he was hurt? He staggered into a pair of shorts, and then thundered downstairs at breakneck speed.

Flying into the front hall, he came to an abrupt halt (so abrupt, in fact, that he nearly went arse over tit on the deacon's bench) to see James shutting the door with his hip, and turning around with a plastic washing basket clutched in his hands, his face as white as a sheet.

"What?" Richard demanded. "What the fuck was all that about?"

James looked down at the basket, and then mutely held it out for Richard to see its contents.

Inside the basket was a pile of blankets, a cloth carrier bag, and...

Richard looked up at James. "Is that what I think it is?"

"If you think it's a baby, then yes," James said weakly. "If you think it's a Triumph Tiger, well, no."

"That's a baby," Richard said, feeling numb.

"Yes."

"James, that's a baby."

"Yes, I think we've established that fact."

"Where did it come from?" Richard's voice rose.

James shrugged helplessly. "The front step."

"Well, put it back!"

"We can't leave it outside," James protested.

Richard jammed the fingers of both hands into his hair, clutching his head. "Why not? I'm fairly certain it's not ours!" he said, clinging to logic as best he could when presented with James and a baby at arse o'clock in the morning.

James strode forward, forcing Richard to scuttle out of his way. He took the basket into the kitchen and set it on the table. "Don't be an idiot. She--he--it might get kidnapped."

"What the hell do you think we're doing?" Richard's voice cracked.

"We're not kidnapping him--her--it. We're doing the Christian thing and taking it in out of the cold," he said firmly. "I wonder if it's a boy or girl?'

Richard peered over the edge of the basket. His nerves were shot to hell, and he spoke without thinking. "How do you tell?"

James stared at him. "How do you think?"

"What? Oh, right. God, I need coffee." He turned away, crossing the kitchen to start the coffeemaker. He couldn't quite believe current events, and wondered if he were dreaming. He leaned his hands on the counter and closed his eyes. That had to be it--he was fast asleep in his bed upstairs, and this was simply the result of one too many cocktails last night. Mixing his fucking drinks, that always did his head in.

A sudden, sharp wail assaulting his eardrums scotched that idea.

"What did you do?" He whirled around.

James was looking nervous. "Nothing! I didn't touch it!"

"Well--well, make it stop!"

"And how do you suggest I do that, Hammond?" James put his fists on his hips.

"You could try picking it up, you pillock. It's--it's probably frightened, or something. Who wouldn't be, with a gigantic you staring down at them?"

James took a deep breath and then gingerly unwrapped the blanket surrounding the tiny child. It wore a simple white babygro underneath; no clue to gender there. He reached in, hesitated, and then picked the crying baby up. "Shit," he muttered. "I think its neck is defective."

Richard stepped closer, shaking his head. "No, no, I know this one. Apparently they do that when they're new. Just...just support it with your fingers."

James shifted his hands slightly and held the baby up, his long fingers cupping the back of its head. "Hello, you," he said softly.

Richard felt something in his chest tighten, and he stood still, watching.

"God, it's smaller than Fusker. Arms, legs, hands, feet. Two eyes and ears. Well, it seems to have all its bits, at least," James said, trying to find something positive to say. "That's good, right?"

"Right," Richard croaked.

The baby continued to cry, so James propped it up against his shoulder and began rubbing its tiny back. "See what's in that bag, will you?" he suggested to Richard. "Maybe there's a note or something."

Richard lifted the small carrier bag out of the basket and looked into it. "A nappy, a bottle, a, a wotsit--a plug. Aha! A note." He reached in and pulled out several sheets of paper, folded into a precise square.

"A plug?" James asked, confused.

"You know, one of those things you pop in their mouth to make them stop crying."

He rolled his eyes. "A dummy, you complete twat. Give it here."

Distracted, Richard plucked it from the bag and passed it to him. James offered it to the baby, who eagerly accepted it and began sucking on it. In the resulting silence, Richard's whispered, "Oh, bollocks," was as loud as the horn on his Dodge Charger.

"What?"

"James," Richard said, controlling himself admirably. "Do you recall signing any papers recently?"

"I don't know, I'm always signing things. What sorts of papers?"

"Oh, nothing really, just some legal fucking ADOPTION PAPERS!" So much for control. He shook the papers in front of James's face. "We've signed these! How did we sign these? These are our signatures! We've signed and we are now--" He stopped and gulped. "Bloody hell. Her legal parents."






Chapter Two: Home Installation


"Richard," James said worriedly. "Richard, are you all right?" He swiftly set the baby back in the basket and knelt beside Richard, who was now sat on the floor staring into nothing. "Rich?"

"We're her daddies," Richard said, bemused. He felt odd, like his brain was floating around the room, entirely unconnected to his body. "Just like that. Without so much as a...a..."

"By-your-leave," James supplied helpfully.

"Right. Exactly." He looked up at James dazedly. "Her name, apparently, is Emily Elizabeth Hammond-May."

"That's a nice name."

"I repeat. Hammond-May."

"Oh. Oh, yes. Well, I do see your point." James helped him up off the floor and dusted the sand off his bottom for him. "But there must be some mistake. Surely this is just a mix-up, and the baby was delivered to the wrong house, or something."

"HAMMOND-MAY!"

"Hmm. I suppose so, yes. Odd, that. Well." James opened a cupboard and took out two mugs. Pouring the coffee, he said, "What do you reckon our next step is, then?" He pushed one mug over to Richard, who'd sat on a stool at the counter.

Richard grabbed it up and downed half of it, scalding his tongue in the process. "Ow, bollockth. Thit. Fuck." He waved one hand in front of his face, careful not to let his tongue touch any other part of his mouth.

James poured him a glass of water. "Be careful, it's hot," he chided.

Richard glared at him over the rim of the glass as he slurped the water. "Tosser," he said, gasping, when he'd finished. He set the glass aside and laid his head on the counter. "I need to think." He closed his eyes, and used the resulting silence (broken only by a bit of rustling, and then the unmistakable sound of James scraping a chair across the floor as he sat down) to ponder their situation.

One, he thought. One, there seemed to be a baby. Two, they seemed to have a court-approved document (although how that could possibly be, Richard had no idea) naming James and he as proper, legal, life-long parents to said baby. Three...well, one and two were enough to be getting on with, weren't they?

"There is a note here, Rich," James said.

"What does it say?"

"She--one can only assume the mother, in this situation--she says she cannot take care of her darling baby, but wants her to go to a good, loving home. She thought we'd be the right ones to raise her."

Richard stared at the salt shaker only a few inches from his head. "That's cleared that up, then. Obviously, she's utterly mad."

The baby began to whimper, and Richard lifted his head. The sight that greeted his eyes took his breath away.

James, sitting on one of their kitchen chairs, cuddling a newborn baby inside his bathrobe and stroking a fingertip down a tiny cheek, was smiling beatifically.




Chapter Three: Basic Care and Maintenance

"Right, what else?" Richard asked, scanning over his list. "Nappies, baby wipes, baby milk, bottles, blankets, rags--"

"Rags?" James asked, the baby suckling on his newly-sanitized little finger.

"You know, those cloths women put over their shoulder to catch the sick."

James made a face. "Oh. Right." He sounded singularly unenthused.

"Goddammit," Richard suddenly said.

"Rich. Not in front of the baby," James whispered, frowning.

"It's not like she understands, you pillock. Who's going to go buy all this kit? I certainly can't--I'll be utterly mobbed!"

"Doing it up a bit brown, aren't you?"

"Fine, then, you go," Richard challenged. There was no bloody way he was going to be caught going up and down the aisles of Sainsbury's carrying nappies and baby milk. Not a chance in hell, not until he'd gotten used to this whole idea. Not until he and James had worked out how to share this with friends and family, let alone the whole bloody world.

James blanched. "I don't want to go. What if I buy the wrong things?"

They looked at each other, at a loss. Emily spat out her dummy and began to cry.

"Well, we have to do something," Richard ventured. "What about--"

"Don't say it--"

"Jeremy?"

"No!" James said firmly, shaking his head. Emily cried louder.

"Come on," Richard wheedled, leaning over to put a hand on James's knee. "He'll take the piss, yes, but he'll do it. You know he will."

"Forget it, Hammond. I'll go myself."

Richard shrugged. "Fine, then. But you'd better be quick about it, Slow. She sounds hungry."

"I'll go get dressed." He rose and carefully held a squalling, red-faced Emily out.

Richard stared at him, not lifting so much as a finger.

"Richard?"

"Yes?"

"Take the baby."

Richard shook his head rapidly, his eyes wide. "Can't you just, you know, put her back in her basket?"

"Richard?" James said calmly.

"Yes?"

"Take the bloody baby before I beat you over the head with the biggest spanner I've got."

Richard warily held out his arms and let James place Emily carefully in his grasp. "Oh, god," he whispered. "I'm going to break her."

James leaned down and placed a kiss on top of Richard's head. "You'll be fine, Hammond."

Richard wasn't so sure, as he listened to James mount the stairs to the bedroom and thump around in the wardrobe. He looked at Emily's scrunched up face, and over her screaming said, "There, there, baby. Um. Yes, yes, you can stop crying now, there's a good poppet."

The wailing proceeded undiminished. Richard rose to his feet and put her against his shoulder the way James had done, and began to pace. "Shhh, now. Shh, Emily. Don't cry, little poppet." He continued to walk around the kitchen, alternately talking to her and lightly jiggling her.

"Richard?" James called from the front hallway.

He barely caught himself from shouting back. "Yes?"

"I'm off. I'll be back as quickly as I can. If you think of anything else we need, ring me."

"Please hurry," Richard said, his voice cracking.

There was a low chuckle as the front door opened. "You can do it, Hamster."

Half an hour later, Richard no longer believed those words. He had expanded his pacing to include the kitchen, lounge, stairs, and both bedrooms; he had tried singing, reciting bad poetry, and humming. He was now reduced to begging.

"Please, please, please stop crying, Emily. Please. I'll give you a car. I have several, you can have whichever one you want. Well, except the 911. Or the Morgan. But you can have any of the others, if you'd just stop crying! What about a motorcycle? Does baby want a motorcycle?" he crooned desperately. "Perhaps not a bike, how about a pony? Would you like a pony, Emily?"

Emily suddenly stopped crying, looking up at him with red, watery eyes and a wobbly chin.

"Oh, you're a good girl," Richard whispered, his limbs feeling weak with relief. "Yes, you are. You can have all the ponies you want, you darling little poppet, just don't start--"

She took a deep breath, screwed up her eyes, and resumed wailing.

"--crying again," Richard moaned. "Oh god. This model's broken," he told the ceiling. "Can I get another one?" He propped her against his chest and retrieved the phone from its cradle in the lounge. His thumb flying over the buttons, he dialed a number and then tucked the phone between his ear and his shoulder, his free hand moving to rub Emily's back. "Please answer," he muttered, "Please, for once in your life answer your fuck--stupid phone." He eyed the baby, but she didn't seem inclined to censure him for his language. She simply continued to scream.

Jeremy's voice suddenly filled Richard's other ear. "This had bloody well better be important--good god, what is that horrible noise?"

"Jeremy, it's Richard," he said quickly. "Where are you?"

"Northampton, why? Is that an air raid siren, Hammond?"

"Bugger," Richard said. "No, it's not an air raid siren, it's a baby, and she won't bloody well stop crying. I'm going mad, Jeremy. You've got to tell me how to make it stop."

"What the hell are you doing with a baby?"

"Really not the point right now, Clarkson. You've had three of these, how do you get them to stop crying?"

Jeremy began to laugh.

"No. No, no, don't you dare," Richard threatened. "You can laugh all you want later, but right now you get a bloody grip, and you tell me what to do."

Jeremy tried, but was mostly unsuccessful at stifling his amusement. "Where's May, locked in the bathroom?"

"He's gone out for supplies. Please, Jeremy," Richard resorted to begging. Emily assisted by injecting an especially piercing shriek into the conversation. "There's got to be something I can do."

Still chuckling, Jeremy gave in, entirely for the baby's benefit, not his mate's. "Have you fed her?"

"No, James is out getting baby milk right now."

"That's likely your problem, you daft sod," Jeremy pointed out. "How old is she?"

"Umm. I'm not sure? Not very; her neck is still, you know, all wobbly."

There was a frown in Jeremy's voice as he asked, "What the hell is going on, Richard?"

"What else could it be besides hunger?" Richard asked desperately, completely ignoring the perfectly valid question.

"Well, her nappy might need changing. Hold her bum up to your nose and take a good whiff."

Richard suspected Jeremy was having him on, but he did as he was told anyway. Lifting her up in the air, being careful to support her head with his fingers, he sniffed her bottom. "AUGH. That can't be normal!"

Jeremy couldn't help but chuckle again. "I'm afraid it is. All right, change her, and when you're done, sit down with your shirt off and put her on your chest in just her nappy. She's overwrought now, and skin to skin is comforting."

"Won't she be too cold?" Richard asked anxiously.

"No, not unless it's freezing in there. If it is, turn the heat up a bit, you idiot. If you can reach the thermostat, that is. I thought you homosexualists were supposed to be good with babies?"

"Apparently I missed that day in class," Richard muttered. "So, ehm, any tips on how to change a nappy?"

"You truly are useless, aren't you, Hamster? They're pretty much idiot-proof these days, although since we are talking about you, I don't hold out much hope."

"Ha bloody ha. Thanks, Jez."

"Call me if you need to. I'll be down in London tonight--I'm coming over."

Richard was about to protest, but then he sighed. "That might be best."

After dropping the phone back into the cradle, Richard took Emily back out to the kitchen. "Where should I..." He looked around the kitchen. "There's sand on the floor, so that's out. James will never cook in here again if I use the counter. What do you think, Emily? Kitchen table?"

Emily shrieked and waved her fists.

"I'll take that as a strong preference." He hesitated, then spread the morning newspaper across the table. "No, that won't work, you'll get ink all over your bum." With a silent prayer that James wouldn't kill him, he laid out a clean tea towel over the newspaper, and then carefully, gingerly laid Emily down.

Emily screamed and kicked her feet.

"I know, I know, baby's got a dirty bum, hasn't she?" he crooned, undoing the poppers on her babygro. "How does this thing come off then, hmm?" He tried to do it efficiently, but between being afraid to hurt her, and the baby waving her tiny fists, it took nearly five full minutes to wriggle Emily out of her clothing. Her crying, staggeringly enough, grew even louder.

"Shh, shh, now," Richard murmured, his full concentration now on the dirty nappy and how it was fastened. "Well, that doesn't look so hard. Let's give it a try, then, shall we? There's a good girl." He ripped the front tabs to the side, and pulled the front of the nappy down. And immediately recoiled, his arm held across his nose.

"Bloody hell! What on earth have you been eating, you atrocious child?" he choked. "That is... that's really, really foul. Don't take it personally, poppet, but you are a very noxious baby." He quickly removed the nappy, bundled it up, and immediately tied it tightly in a plastic bag. "Next," he encouraged himself. "Okay. No wipes. Bugger." He looked around the kitchen, and decided to sacrifice James's tea towel. "We'll buy him some new ones for his birthday, how does that sound?" Cleaning her up as best he could, Richard pulled the single clean nappy out of the cloth carrier bag that had arrived with the baby. "One shot. Don't bollocks this up, Hammond." He opened it up, studying it closely. "All right. If the tabs pull around the front, then it must go...this way." He slid one end under her bottom, pulled the front up and, holding his breath, tucked the sides in and fastened the sticky tabs. He picked the sobbing Emily up, and cheered when the nappy stayed in place.

"See! Your daddy is a genius." He stopped as he realized what he'd just said. "Erm. Right. Could you possibly stop crying now, Emily? Please? You've got a clean bum, things are definitely looking up. Come on, let's go try Uncle Jeremy's suggestion."

Richard took her into the lounge, and for the first time in what felt like hours, sat down. He leaned back and laid her on his bare chest, her head resting over his heart. "Come here, poppet. Shhh, now. Shhh, that's my girl." Ever so slowly, Emily's loud wails lessened, softened, turned into little bleats. Richard began to hum, and ten minutes later, Emily was sound asleep.

Five minutes after that, so was Richard.





Chapter Four: Feeding - Understanding Your Baby's Power Supply

"Richard?" James's voice slowly brought Richard back to consciousness. He was about to sit up when he became aware of a warm weight on his chest, and he froze. Surely it was Fusker? The cat had never curled up on Richard's naked chest before, but you never knew. The sensation of a tiny arm smacking him as it flailed scuppered that idea, however, and he was forced to admit (again) that the entire thing had not been a dream. He lifted his head and looked down, and sure enough, a miniature person lay on him, and a small puddle of drool had collected on his sternum. Big blue eyes surrounded by impossibly long dark lashes met his, and he softened. "Hello, poppet," he whispered.

"That has got to be the most painfully adorable thing I have witnessed in my entire life," James grinned from the doorway.

"Where the bloody hell have you been?" Richard groused, then quickly plastered a smile on his face when Emily's brows began to lower. "No, no, it's all right," he sing-songed, tickling her cheek with a fingertip. "No more crying, or Daddy will have to gouge his eardrums out with a spoon and ram them up your other Daddy's arse for taking so bloody long at the shops. There's a good girl."

"Everything's in the kitchen, Daddy," James said, turning and leaving. "Come look."

"Bollocks," Richard whispered in secret to Emily, "I'm for it now." He sat her up on his chest to let the nappy absorb the drool and, once on his feet, tucked her into the crook of his elbow and followed James out. He stopped short in the doorway to the kitchen though, partly out of surprise and partly because there was hardly room left on the floor to take a step, so many boxes and carrier bags were there.

"And that", James said pointedly, "Is why I took 'so bloody long at the shops'. Twat."

"James, not in front of the baby," Richard reproached him, and then leaned forward and up to plant a kiss on James's lips. "Sorry, yeah? It's just, she wouldn't stop crying, I thought I'd killed her. I ended up having to call Jeremy, and he's the one who suggested resting with her skin to skin. Worked like a treat, too, we'll have to remember that one. Oh, and look!" he said delightedly, holding Emily up for inspection. "I changed her nappy, and it's even stayed on."

"You told Clarkson about her?"

"Yes, well, you weren't supposed to focus on that bit. Nappy, see?" he held the baby up again as evidence.

"Oh, god," James groaned, running a hand through his tangled hair. "What did he say?"

"Nothing much, except to malign my sexuality, my intelligence, and my height. The usual. He's, ehm, comingovertonight," Richard mumbled the last little bit as quickly as he could. "So where's the food in all this?"

"He's what?"

Richard sighed. "Dropping by tonight. Look, James, we could use some advice here, preferrably from someone we know and...well, know. Not to mention the fact that someone's going to have to explain to Andy why we don't show up tomorrow, and I'd rather it was him than me."

James sighed deeply. "Fair point," he conceded. He looked at Emily. "Not a bad job on the nappy, either."

Richard grinned. "All right, let's feed her, before she starts crying again. I'll warn you right now, if she starts, I'll likely join her."

"Right. Baby milk's in the Sainsbury's bag, if you want to find that?" James turned in a circle on the spot, looking at his purchases. "If I were a sterilizer, where would I be?"

"What's that for?" Richard asked, spotting the bags with the milk in and lifting them one-handedly onto the kitchen table. One at a time, he took the tins out of the bags, inspecting each one as he did so.

"You. I want to make sure we don't have any more children," James said with a withering look. "For the bottles, you pillock."

"Don't mind your other Daddy, Emily," Richard whispered to her loudly. "He calls me an awful lot of names, but he really does love me."

"The last thing I expected when I returned today was you calling yourself 'Daddy'," James commented. "Ah, there it is." He picked up a large bag that held a box, and carried it over to the counter to begin setting it up.

"It rather took me by surprise as well. Do you know what you're doing with that?"

James had the box open and pieces strewn over the work surface already. "There are instructions. Besides, how hard could it--"

"Dont. Even. Finish that," Richard warned darkly. He watched James for a moment, and then made a decision that he knew wouldn't go over very well. Still carrying Emily (quite honestly, he was afraid to put her down in case she began squalling again), Richard retrieved a pot from the cupboard and filled it with water at the sink. He put it on the stove and lit the gas.

"What is that for?" James demanded.

"Sterilizing one for now, just until you get that set up," Richard said, placating James with a puppy-dog look. "It's only...I'm a bit worried, James. Who knows how long it's been since she's eaten?"

James harrumphed, but continued perusing the instruction booklet without further protest.

Fetching the bottle from the bag that had arrived with the baby, Richard wordlessly handed it to James to undo the top and separate the pieces. He dropped them one by one into the water, and sat on a stool to wait for it to boil.

Emily, out of patience and likely very hungry, kicked out twice with her wee feet and began to cry again. "No, no, please don't," Richard winced. "We're working on it, I swear."

"She's a baby, Richard. Babies cry," James pointed out.

"I know," Richard moaned. "It's just the cumulative effects on the psyche of a man who, eight hours ago, did not have a baby--and quite honestly, wasn't exactly expecting one."

"It's not that bad."

"Give it half an hour, and see if you still agree. Shhh, Emily, shh now. It's all right, dinner's on its way. Perhaps Daddy could leave the sterilizer for a moment and open a tin of milk for you? Because Daddy has his hands full with you, poppet, doesn't he?"

"We can't both be Daddy," James said reasonably, putting aside the instructions to hunt in the drawer for a tin opener. "Think of the confusion when she's trying to learn to speak."

"I'm Daddy," Richard said firmly. "You can be..."

"Papa," James said it with a French accent.

Richard rolled his eyes. "How about Dad?"

"That works, too." He took the tin of SMA from Richard and opened it, then on second thought, gave it a sniff. He made a face. "Smells like leftover clotted cream."

"As long as it doesn't smell like what came out of her bum today, I don't care," Richard said, and shuddered at the memory. "It was...shocking. I'm not sure you're going to be able to cope."

"I can handle a bit of stink. I put up with you after you've been running, don't I?"

"Oh! You wound me!" Richard exclaimed, wondering if he'd laced it with just the right amount of sarcasm. "Fine, you can change her next, and then you'll find out, won't you?"

"Your water's boiling," James said equably.

Richard set the timer on the microwave for five minutes. "Just a little bit longer, Emily. Shh. Who's a good girl? Hmm?" He lifted her up and nuzzled her stomach with his nose. "Oh, that's right, it's you!"

Emily was so startled she was silent for a moment. So was James. They both stared at him.

"What?"




Ten minutes later, Richard and James stood looking at each other, the fully prepared bottle of milk sitting on the counter between them. "James," Richard said, "Why don't you feed her first?" He stroked a palm over the baby's head.

James involuntarily took a step back. "No, you do it."

"It's all right, it's just a bottle," Richard encouraged. "It's not like you'll have to fight to get her to take it."

James shuffled, one hand rubbing up and down the opposite bicep. "I'll--I'll do the next one."

Richard looked at him for a moment. "All right. Think you can find me one of those, wotsits? The rags, did you find out what they're called?"

"Ah, yes. Right. Burp cloths." He quickly turned away and began rooting through his purchases. "Go on into the lounge, Richard, I'll bring it in."

Richard carried Emily and the bottle into the living room, and took a seat in the corner of the sofa. Emily was still crying, but the second he had her settled and held the teat to her lips, she latched on with alacrity.

Richard watched her feed with more than a little wonder. So frail, so vulnerable, so helpless, and yet so utterly determined to drain the bottle as quickly as possible. "She drinks like Clarkson," he said as James entered the room.

James snorted and draped a thick cloth over Richard's left shoulder. "Let's just hope she can hold it better than he can. I've only bought ten of those."

Richard glanced down at it; it was chocolate brown with tiny pink polkadots scattered all over, and he could feel the softness of terrycloth underneath against his skin. "I was expecting neon pink duckies, or something," he teased. "This is very understated. Well done, May."

James sat in the chair opposite and leaned his elbows on his knees. His eyes were riveted on the baby, tucked in the crook of Richard's elbow, her sparse hair dark against his pale chest. "Someone has to teach her some style."

Richard laughed. "I agree, but she'll need better advice than 'buy a stripey jumper, they hide the stains well'."

"Pillock," he said, but his eyes never left Emily. "Tip the bottle up a bit more."

Richard immediately did so, but asked, "Why?"

"You know what I'm like when I get too much air with my lager. You don't want that combined with spitting up. Oh, and the lady at the shop said you have to burp her after, they can't do it themselves."

Richard's forehead wrinkled. "Did she happen to mention how?"

James nodded, tilting his head to see if Emily's eyes were closed. "You put her up to your shoulder--hence the cloth--and pat her back firmly."

Richard shrugged. "Doesn't sound too difficult." He watched his partner watch the baby. "James?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you going to be all right with this?"

"What?"

Richard rolled his eyes but smiled at James affectionately. "The baby, you twonk. We've never discussed the idea for rather obvious reasons, but... James, do you even want a child?"

James glanced up at him, intense and heated and fiery. "Yes."

Richard nearly gasped. He felt that look like ribbon in his chest, silkily soft and ready to bind him for life. "Oh," he breathed. "Yes. Good, then."

"You've no idea, do you?" James murmured. "God, Richard, you look so... I want to take this moment and press it between the pages of Keats, or Donne, or Blake. I want to honour it. Savour it. I suddenly want more than I ever thought possible, and it's sitting right here in front of me."

"James," Richard said, a thousand thoughts and desires and answers tumbling through his head. "James, come here." He shifted slightly, turning towards James when he sat right beside them. Without a free hand, and not wanting to jostle Emily too much, Richard was forced to be as subtle as he ever was. "Kissing me right now would be a very good idea."

James leaned across and placed his lips on Richard's, gentle as a vow.

Making a soft noise in the back of his throat, Richard broke the kiss several minutes later and leaned his forehead against James's. "Promise me something?" he whispered.

"Hmm?"

"When she cries for three days straight, or vomits on your most comfortable slippers, or shaves the cat, or brings home a boy- or girlfriend we both hate, or decides to put us in a home, promise me you'll remind us of this moment?"

James's laugh ghosted across Richard's skin. "Yeah. I promise." He kissed Richard again.

Just then Emily gurgled, and both men leaned back to look down at her.

"Hello, love," James said, and was rewarded with a toothless smile. He looked at Richard, beaming. "Did you see that? She smiled at me. That's her first smile, and it was at me."

Setting the nearly empty bottle to one side, Richard grinned, and kept thoughts of gas to himself. "Of course she smiled at you. You're a very handsome bloke, May. All right, let's give this burping malarkey a go." He lifted her up to his shoulder, and James helped him arrange the cloth to catch any potential ramifications. Richard gingerly began patting Emily on her back.

James watched expectantly, but after a moment said, "I'm not sure that's hard enough. The lady at the shop was quite adamant that you have to do it firmly."

Richard groaned, but increased his strength. "Where's Clarkson when you need him? And don't you dare tell him I said that."

Sure enough, a scant minute later, Emily let out a surprisingly impressive burp--along with a quantity of milk.

Richard squeezed his eyes shut in distaste as he felt a bit of the sick run down his bare back. "No. Just...no. I am never doing this without a shirt on ever, ever again."

Chuckling, James pulled the cloth out from underneath Emily and cleaned Richard up. "I think our washing's going to quintuple. But well done, Rich." He glanced at Emily. "Looks like someone's content now."

Richard carefully lowered her down onto his lap where they could both gaze at her. Her eyes were closed, her rosebud mouth slightly open, and she was fast asleep, her fingers curled into tiny fists. Richard leaned his head on James's shoulder. "How long do you think this will last?"

"Not long enough, I suspect," James answered with a smile. "Not nearly long enough."


Chapter 2

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