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It happens without him really noticing.

One day it’s terrifying; Gus has an important meeting with a client, Selene is visiting her parents up north. He’s alone with baby Jackson and a mountain of diapers and every fear his brain can cook up. He manages to get the kid to stop crying only after 3 episodes of Sanford and Son, and spends the next 40 minutes sitting stock still on the couch, terrified if he moves the baby will wake up again. He nearly cries when Gus comes home two hours later, blissfully relieving him of uncle duty.

A month or so later, he and Juliet drive to the local shelter and pick out the mangiest mutt they can find. His name is Potato, he’s missing 6 teeth, and as Jules cuddles him up to her chest and coos, Shawn thinks he feels his heart expand.

The kids adore Potato. Lassiter comes by for Jules’ birthday, and Lily spends the whole day chasing the dog around the yard, begging her dad to get one. The dog will keep the squirrels out, she promises, and Shawn can’t contain the laugh that comes out.

When it’s time to go, Lily rains kisses on Potato’s head, promising she’ll never forget him even when her daddy gets a dog too.

It’s hard to miss the way Jules wipes at her eyes as she waves goodbye to the little girl.

That night when they get in bed, curling up into each other, Shawn briefly wonders what it would be like if someone else where here. Someone tiny and small, with baby breath and bright blue eyes, who holds onto them both like they were the whole world.

The image is gone by the time he wakes up.

Jackson starts to walk by holding Potato’s back. The two take ambling steps through the apartment, and Shawn tries to clear all the mislaid Wii controllers and dried Fruit Loops out of their path. Baby proofing is hard, maybe impossible. Kids get into stuff they shouldn't and do things when you look away for two seconds, and it's all terrifying. He could blink, and Jackson will be pulling at the TV cord or sticking his hand down the drain. He doesn't know how Gus does it, how he stays on like this 24/7.

Jackson turns one and a half on a Tuesday. Shawn didn’t know that was an occasion you celebrated, but Gus and Selene ask if he and Juliet can host a party at their place, as they have to repaint their living room wall after the toddler smeared grape jelly over every inch he could reach.

Gus comes over to do the decorating. Glossy printouts of Black bears (Jackson’s favorite animal), BBQ chicken (Jackson’s favorite food), and even tiny tap shoes adorn the living room. It’s a lot for a kid who probably won’t remember a thing, but Gus looks so proud of his handiwork that Shawn thinks maybe the party isn’t just for Jackson at all.

Selene brings the birthday boy over just as the smooth jazz playlist starts. Jackson waddles in clutching his mom’s leg, big smile on his face like he knows his dad spent hours image searching the perfect plate of barbecue.

“Helloooo, Jackie!” Juliet scoops the little boy up in her arms with all the natural ease of a practiced aunt, bouncing him as he squeals and grabs at her necklace. Selene pulls out her phone to take pictures, excitedly giving direction to the baby, who waves back at his mom like he understands any of what’s going on. Shawn almost envies him.

Potato runs up barking and Jackson shouts excitedly, kicking his feet into Juliet’s stomach as he squirms to get down.

“He loves his cousin Potato,” Selene gushes, as Gus tries to stop Jackson from poking his fingers in the dog’s ears. “He drew a picture of them together!”

“On the wall,” Gus butts in, glancing up at his wife. “In jelly.”

“Yes, he’s very artistic.”

The party goes as well as children’s birthdays usually do. Jackson shoves his face in the cake and the crab dip is gone before lunch even comes out. There’s presents and toys and some kid’s show that has a really catchy jingle to it that Shawn will have to secretly add to his date night playlist later.

After two and a half courses, both Gus and his dad have fallen asleep on the couch, while Selene is showing Juliet pictures of Jackson at the beach last week. He watches Jules ooh and awe for a moment, before he spies the kid himself sitting on the living room floor, holding Potato’s face in his tiny hands.

Shawn walks over slowly, although he’s not sure if he’s more worried about spooking the baby or the dog. Jackson’s spilled blue frosting on his new button down (why does a toddler need a button down? This kid isn’t even 2 and he has more formal shirts than Shawn himself) and still has cake smeared on his cheeks, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

The baby babbles incomprehensibly to Potato, who listens about as intently as a dachshund can manage. Shawn squats down beside them, and the dog thumps his tail against his sneaker.

“Jack,” Shawn starts, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Can I ask you something?"

He burbles, little cake stained fingers pointing up at Shawn.

“Do you want a real cousin?”

He doesn’t get a response, but he keeps going anyway. It’s kind of like talking to Gus, only the kid’s not gonna correct him on using whomst correctly. Probably.

“I dunno, dude. Like, you’re pretty cool. But I don’t know if I’m ready.”

Jackson blinks back at him with those wide brown eyes, fingers still twisting in the dog’s fur.

“Yeah, you’re right. I guess I can’t wait that much longer. I promised her we’d pop something out by 60.”

Jackson leans his tiny head against the dog’s body. He looks too thoughtful for a one-and-a-half year old. Too smart to bother with Shawn's problems.

“What if I let Jules down? What if I let my kid down? I mean, you’ve got the pre-Snow Dogs Cuba of fathers. You’ve got the blueprint. I.... Didn’t.”

The baby hiccups. Shawn reaches out to him out of instinct, waiting for the coughing or the crying or whatever this kid’s gonna pull out next, but he only stands up shakily and walks straight into his open arms.

Jackson relaxes into him, resting his head against Shawn’s chest, tiny eyes falling closed.

“You still like Sanford and Son, bud?”

There’s piles of paper plates and decorations shoved into the trash, and Shawn promises to take it out first thing in the morning. Of course, he can’t keep all his promises to Jules.

Gus and Selene finally leave late into the evening, with Jackson sleeping in his father’s arms. Shawn can’t name the feeling he gets when he watches Gus press a kiss to the tiny forehead. Pride. And love. Maybe envy.

Jules puts on an old t shirt for bed -SBPD baseball league, 2011 season- and curls up beside him, tucking her feet against his legs.

It’s funny how things become so familiar, it’s like he can’t imagine his life without them. Sleeping next to Juliet. Shopping for baby dress pants with Gus. Letting Selene talk him into posing for her painting class.

“You know,” Juliet starts, and he can see the tiny smile on her face. “My half birthday is in April.”

“Mm, I will definitely keep that in mind.”

She chuckles into his chest. “I think I want a Barbie dream house theme.”

He laughs with her, but there’s a real picture of a pink party, dollhouses and water guns and action figures, forming in his mind.

“Actually, babe, I-uh... I was thinking,” Shawn grabs her hands in his; cold, tiny, deadly accurate. Capable. “Maybe we could try, um, for a Jackson.”

Juliet’s eyebrows crinkle. “I don’t- what does that mean?”

“You know, like- like, we could have our own Jackson. He’ll be different, obviously. Probably blonder.”

Her mouth falls open as she seems to grasp the concept. Shawn feels vulnerable, more so than he’s ever been with her, in their 15 years of knowing each other. Everything they've done, everything they've faced, and nothing feels as soul searing as this.

“Just, I mean- If you’d want to. I think Potato would like the company. And it’d give my dad something to do, he spends all day shopping for designer scarves now it’s really embar-“

“You want to have a baby?” Juliet whispers, and he hears the hope in her voice, mixed up with something like fear.

“I-“ he does. And he doesn’t, because the idea terrifies him more than getting shot, more than losing his custom Stone Cold Steve Austin action figure he bought on eBay in 2004. It’s akin only to the fear he felt when someone shoved a gun in Juliet’s face, when Gus was at the mercy of a serial killer, when Lassiter was gunned down and all anyone could tell them was “it doesn’t look good.”

But this is a good fear, maybe. Maybe this fear is what makes you want to be a parent.

“Yeah,” he breathes, and Juliet’s face splits into a smile. He thinks of their wedding, thrown together on a pier in front of anyone who mattered to them, stitches on her forehead and glass embedded in his palms. The best things don’t make sense. “I do.”