Book 3, Chapter 22

Sem was perhaps the most precious thing on the planet. There was no other way to sum up his importance or how seriously Surge took his job as the boy’s babysitter. He was more than mildly pleased with himself every time he made the baby smile or laugh. Those expressions were, in a way, far more important than Sem’s actual safety.

Since he'd learned to crawl, he'd pulled a lamp down on his head, chased Ash around the room until his legs were chaffed from the hard floors and gotten a few hisses and face pats from the annoyed cat, which was not at all pleased with the interloper’s new found mobility. Now he was standing on his own, getting ready to embark on his first steps, and subsequently finding new things to pull over onto himself. The laundry basket had scared him the most, but even then, Sem got over the momentary panic once Surge picked him up and was laughing and smiling again in moments. It was okay to let him bonk his head a couple times and it was inevitable that he'd fall down. The smiles, though, were up to him to ensure and Surge made very sure life was something for Sem to enjoy.

Surge remembered his own father as a stern man: distant and very busy. A man who showed his love through the hardships he endured for his family. It earned him respect in his son's eyes, but Surge had few memories of an actual relationship with him. Even if he wasn't Sem's father and even though Sem would not remember all the time they spent together, Surge felt he was giving him something important: a father's attention and love. It was only fair that Sem get something in return for what he did for Surge.

It was only three o'clock, but the day had already been a long one. After being brought over by Cross that morning, Sem had taken off to find Ash, initiating a game of hide and seek in which Surge was forced to look for Sem while Sem was looking for the cat. Lunch usually took an hour or so, though only a couple minutes were spent eating, followed by a bath. Then there was fun with the bubbles and the toy boat Surge had bought for him. Afterwards were belly blowing and peek-a-boo and then a nap on the couch while they watched a children's program on the terminal with the sound off, since Sem couldn’t hear it and it made it easier for Surge to sleep as well. With Sem stretched out on his chest, he wasn't worried about him rolling off. He was a light sleeper and always woke up as soon as Sem stirred. It still unnerved him that the child could sleep undisturbed even with the phone ringing near him and it always took Surge several minutes to become comfortable speaking at a normal volume to the person on the other end.

Julian was an excellent example of why Sem needed a decent father figure in his life. Maxwell was an even better example, but Surge couldn't see Sem growing up to be an asshole. Regardless, the conversation with the former had started off riveting given the events that had passed, then quickly spiraled into mundane once the words "classified" entered into it. Surge wasn't allowed to know who took him.

It was sort of insulting. He was the Surge, he went everywhere information went, there were very few things that were secret to him, especially when it came to Julian. But he said no, said he didn't want to worry about Surge doing anything, and moved on to something else.

Doing anything? What did Julian expect him to do? Release the information to the press? Tamper with the culprit’s tax files and report him to the authorities? He was a little insulted to think that "doing anything" was probably more along the lines of getting himself caught and tortured, than any sort of vengeance he might have wanted to take out in Julian's name. He was vengeful, though, and being one-seventh of a divine being ought to give him the right to do as he liked sometimes. If Julian told him who had hurt him, would he track him down and make him pay?

Yes. And apparently Julian knew that and thought that Surge was so completely incompetent that he'd only manage fail.

Or he was so terrified of the unknown man that he'd convinced himself no one could possibly be enough to take him down. That was the way Surge had felt about Greg.

Surge wasn't sure which he preferred. He'd lived in that bleak, helpless fear for longer than he liked to admit. He wouldn't wish it on anyone.

He hadn't said anything, though. He and Greg were not the most well kept secret, but it was quiet enough to get by without mentioning it. Perhaps that was why the conversation had passed so quickly from torture and recovery to Sasha. As much as Surge could have said, related to and shared about his own experiences with abduction and the things it entailed, he hadn't said a word. He was pleased to hear that Maxwell had stopped being a jackass and had proven to have a heart, but even then he'd only said enough to make it known that he was listening and he approved. Now he was stuck in a conversation about Sasha and it was only a matter of time before Julian realized he'd zoned out at least five minutes ago in favor of personal reflection and watching Sem sleep.

It wasn't that he didn't like Sasha. The guy might have hated him, but it wasn't mutual, even though Sasha knew about Greg. It was more the talk about relationships in general that made Surge's attention waver. Sex made him uncomfortable and stories about Sasha usually involved sex. Julian was nice enough not to expound on it, but it was hard to get over the fact that two people, living together and regularly engaging in sexual acts were doing so without any romantic interest in each other. The world was apparently crazy or Surge was--

"--but what do you think?"

Surge stared at the wall. A direct question. Were they still talking about Sasha? Was he supposed to agree with something? Disagree? Was it a good time to laugh or was it more of a sympathetic moment? So many choices, and only one right one.

Julian interrupted the long pause with a good-natured laugh. "Yeah, I figured you weren't listening around the time I told you I was pregnant with our love child. Nice one, Surge."

"Sorry." Surge was glad phones had yet to develop the ability to broadcast blushing over long distances. "So, what about Sasha?"

"I'm just worried I'm using him. Before it was more the other way around, since he needed me for food and shelter and, well, everything. Now I feel dirty, like I've got myself my very own love slave and I'm worried maybe I should kick him out for his own mental health or something."

Damn it, what was Surge supposed to know about that? "So it was okay for him to use you, but it's not for you to use him?"

"Well, I didn't really care when it was me."

"But he cares that you're using him now?"

"No, he doesn't care and that's the problem."

"...Julian, I think we might actually be from different planets."

Julian laughed, but Surge was almost serious. "You know, Surge, I've really missed you. You should come by sometime. You never did get back to me on that offer for drinks. I'll go ahead and extend that to dinner as well. It can be a date."

The gears in Surge's head switched off and his mouth went dry. "...Did we just go from talking about you using your boyfriend to you asking me out?"

"He's not my boyfriend."

"Yeah, I get that, but--" The phone gave a long beep. Surge’s first thought was that the battery was dying. He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the screen. It said CROSS where it should have said JULIAN, with a little prompt to accept the call. He blinked at it for a moment then put the phone back to his ear. "Uh, Julian, I think I have another call... What happens if I push the accept button?"

"You get switched to the other person and I get put on hold. You've never used call waiting before?"

"No. It's Cross. I should--"

"Yeah, definitely. I'll wait."

Surge pulled the phone away from his ear again and pressed the accept button. "Cross?"

"There you are. You usually pick up faster than that. I was starting to worry. Everything alright?"

Surge smiled, petting Sem's head gently. "Everything's great. Nap time. He's been out for a while. He'll probably be up in a another half hour or so."

"That's good. I'm on break and thought I'd check in on my two favorite boys."

It was almost embarrassing how pleased he felt at being called that.

Cross's day was, apparently, going as well as could be expected. A rough lunch crowd had kept her on her feet until three, with the dinner crowd just around the corner. There was a tale or two about particularly poor customers who had earned the wrath of the cook through their treatment of Cross. All was fair in the food service industry, it seemed. Surge hadn't ever really understood the satisfaction that came from spitting in someone's food, but it seemed to make Cross feel better.

"What about you? How's your day going?" Cross asked at the end of another short rant about the management.

Surge shrugged out of habit. "Same as always. Better than yours, anyway. I don't think Sem likes squash anymore."

"Yeah, he wouldn't eat it last time I tried to give it to him. I still have, like, three containers of the stuff, though. Think I could get away with mixing it and maybe the chicken ones? Just until they're gone?"

"I don't think he'll resent you as a teenager for it." Surge moved the phone to the other ear. "If he does, just tell him it was me. Then you can still be the favorite."

"Favorite? Me? Oh please. He won't shut up about you."

"Being deaf and only a year old, I find that hard to believe."

"I'm the Messenger. A telepath," Cross reminded him. "You think I wouldn't go into my baby's head and try and teach him to understand me and vice versa?"

Surge hadn't thought of it as even a possibility, but it jump-started his mind in all new directions.

"I wish you could hear it," she continued. "He has a word for you in his own little language and it's always popping up. I think he tries to tell me how much he enjoys spending time with you. How happy he is. That he loves you. It's really sweet. He hasn't really learned how to speak back to me mentally, but he understands I'm in his mind with him and he shares what's there with me in the ways he can."

"That's really great, Cross. Really."

"I know." She sighed, the sort of pre-hang up sound of someone who was not pleased that she had to go back to work. "Guess I'll leave you two to your nap then and go serve these assholes their food."

"Yeah, okay. I should probably get back to Julian. He's on the other line."

"Surge, we've been talking for fifteen minutes! You mean you've left Julian on hold this whole time!"

Somehow when she said it, it sounded like a problem. There were apparently aspects of phone etiquette that he was unaware of. "I said you were on the other line, and he told me to take the call."

"But you're supposed to flash back over and tell him you'll call him back or something!" Cross's voice was cheerful even when scolding him. "I'm glad he called. You two getting along pretty well?"

Surge's forehead creased. "I think he just asked me out on a date."

"Did you say yes? Oh! Wear that tight black shirt and those jeans I bought you that make your ass look nice. No, scratch that, first dates should probably be more casual. Just don't wear any of that baggy stuff you've got. You're a thin guy. There's no excuse for you to own anything in an extra large."

"I…no. Cross, what happened to going to work? You have to hang up now."

"You said no?!"

Surge was a little taken aback at how disappointed she sounded. "I didn't say anything. You have to go. People will starve, Cross. You have to feed them. The conversation has to end."

"Subtle much?" Cross sighed again. "Promise me you won't do that thing you do where you overanalyze something to the point that you lose all interest in it. There are other people in the world besides Sem who could bring as much sunshine into your life as he does. You can't stay in your shell forever. Live a little."

"I promise I won't over-think things if you promise to forget I said anything in the first place and never mention this again. Ever. To anyone. Even if I'm dead. Or in Triumph."

"Why would you be in Triumph?"

"I don't know! Go to work!"

"Fine, I will!" Cross giggled, unable to keep her stern tone. "I'll be over when my shift is through. Then we can not talk about it some more if you want. Later." The phone clicked.

Surge pulled it in front of his face to glare at it, hoping Cross got that message as well. His love life was of absolutely no concern to her or anyone else. He'd spent three months of his life with Greg Waters; there was very little desire left in the wake of that for human contact. Sem, incapable of demanding anything from him that was harmful or uncomfortable, was an exception.

But Sem wasn't his and wouldn't always be with him. He had a mother and a real father who would eventually get together and take their son with them. Sem would have a normal, happy family, and Surge would be alone again.

"Hello? You there?"

Surge blinked at the phone and brought it back to his ear with surprise. "Julian?"

"Well, yeah. Unless you've had someone else on hold all this time, too."

"No, just you." Surge felt Ash leap up onto the couch and watched him circle at his feet before lying down on top of them. Apparently no one felt like leaving him alone. "Um, sorry. I guess I should have said I would be a while."

"Don't worry about it. I'm great at multitasking. I can sit on hold, make myself a sandwich and do research all at the same time." Julian made a pleasant noise as though amused by himself. "Eating the sandwich and talking would have been a little more difficult, but luckily you gave me enough time to get finished with all that. Hope everything's alright with Cross."

"Yeah, she's fine. Just...working." Surge smiled a little to himself, moving his feet under Ash to watch the cat’s ears perk up in annoyance. Cross, Sem, Ash, Nyr, Julian, even, to some extent, James Maxwell...Surge had friends. He wouldn't be alone.

"So, about that date?"

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