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time spent in suspended animation

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Reddish-orange rays of sunset spill through the window at the end of the hall, their path to the ground interrupted by the tiny blonde letting herself out of the apartment. She rummages in her purse, presumably for her keys to lock the door.

"I'll get it," Esposito calls, and she glances up with a smile brighter than anything else in the apartment building.

"Javier! You're a little early today," Jenny observes, kissing his cheek when he gets close enough. "Kevin's trying to get the subtitles to work right, and Sarah Grace was asleep as of two minutes ago..." She rolls her eyes, tightening the belt of her wool coat. "She's been fussy today. Maybe you can get her to settle down."

"I think Ryan's been exaggerating my baby-calming skills," Esposito answers.

Jenny shrugs it off. "Well, anything's worth a shot at this point." She pats his chest as she steps around him. "See you in a few hours."

*

At the last second, Esposito stops himself from calling out "Lucy, I'm home!" Instead he locks the door behind him and toes off his shoes, padding quietly into the living room. Ryan's got his back to him, bent at the waist and fiddling with the DVD player, so Esposito allows himself a moment to look. Ryan's wearing jeans and a soft-looking red sweater that stretches over his shoulders, and the comfortable silence of the apartment makes Esposito feel like he could reach out and touch.

It's a dangerous line of thought, so to put an end to it he asks, "What's it this week?" and Ryan startles so violently that he smacks his hand on the corner of the tv. Belatedly, Esposito realizes he probably should have made a little more noise coming in, but in his defense he'd thought Ryan was more situationally aware than he apparently was.

"Jesus!" Ryan yells, half a second before he claps his hand over his mouth in horror. From beside the couch, an infant's wail starts up.

Esposito feels Ryan's wince down to his very bones. As a peace offering, he gestures for Ryan to stay put and goes over to the moses basket himself, lifting Sarah Grace out. "Sorry, man. Jenny let me in. I thought you heard me."

"Nada," Ryan says, shaking out his injured hand. "We just got her to sleep, too."

"Yeah, I heard," Esposito says, feeling guiltier by the second. Sarah Grace has always responded well to movement, so he bounces her a little in her arms. She calms in increments.

Ryan's watching in exhausted awe. "Can you teach me that?"

"I tried last week, remember?"

"You must have taught me wrong, because as soon as you went home it stopped working."

Esposito is zero percent surprised to hear that. "Not my fault she likes me better. She's a woman of good taste."

"Just for that, you're helping me intimidate her boyfriends in high school."

Esposito scoffs. "Dude. As if that wasn't already the plan?"

Ryan seems slightly surprised at that, which is fair—he has no idea that Esposito's thought about it in that what-if, never-gonna-happen way. Sarah Grace, nearly grown and so pretty, pulling some lovestruck sucker into the living room. Come on, she'd say, my dads want to meet you before the movie.

He has no idea where Jenny is in these hypothetical future scenarios, and carefully avoids thinking too much about it. It would be easier to write her out of the picture if he didn't like her so much.

His thumb is rubbing absently against Sarah Grace's back, the soft fleece of her sleeper keeping him firmly in the realm of reality. "Which one are we watching today?"

If Ryan notices his distraction, he never says. "Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Third Doctor."

"Is he less of a dick than Six?" Esposito asks, eyeing his partner suspiciously.

"Everyone's less of a dick than Six. How many times are you going to make me apologize for Trial of a Timelord?"

"Fourteen times." Esposito's been waiting for Ryan to actually ask that question for months. "Once for each episode."

"There aren't fourteen—"

"I counted," Esposito interrupts. "You wasted a month of my life, Ryan." And yet, he kept coming back—what does that say about him? He's not bitter, not really, but he knows how to talk a good game.

Ryan throws up his hands. "It was a good introduction to Gallifrey politics! Fine. I'm sorry; I'm the worst partner in the world; I promise this one is better. How's that for an apology?"

"Get me a beer and I'll accept it," Esposito says, smirking as he makes himself comfortable on his side of the couch—the side with the blanket draped over it. He knows Ryan puts it there every week because he's tired of listening to Esposito bitch about the health hazards of roadkill furniture. Esposito also knows the day he acknowledges the gesture is the day it'll stop.

Ryan huffs, loudly, and goes into the kitchen, which gives Esposito the opportunity to drop the act and smile. He'll never say it out loud, but annoyed is a good look for Ryan. Sarah Grace stirs in his arms, and he shifts his attention to her. "He's too easy to rile up," Esposito stage-whispers, tickling her nose. "You'd think after seven years he'd have learned not to give me the satisfaction. You'll be better at it. We'll teach you."

From the entrance to the living room, Ryan clears his throat. Esposito looks up from where Sarah Grace is chewing toothlessly on his finger to find Ryan watching them with a totally inscrutable look on his face. Two open beers dangle from his fingers.

"You, ah… you just going to hold her the whole time?"

Esposito shrugs, dragging her basket around the side of the couch to rest by his feet. "Until she settles, probably. Why? Afraid I'll corrupt your kid?"

Ryan's fond smile is nothing new, but still gives Esposito pause. "Nah. I just thought your arms might be getting tired."

There is only one appropriate response to that challenge, and it is to give Ryan the finger. "Just for that, I'm not putting her down all night. Maybe your pansy arms get tired after a couple minutes, but tonight your daughter has a ticket to the gun show."

Which… dammit. He has a sneaking suspicion his partner just played him, hard, and it's only confirmed when Ryan snickers, handing him a bottle. "Sucker."

"I am who I am," Esposito replies, refusing to let it get him down because Sarah Grace is drooling on his shirt a little, thumb half-falling out of her mouth. At some point, Ryan must have hit play because the psychedelic opening sequence is flashing silently across the television.

Ryan flops down onto the couch beside him, slouching on the periphery of Esposito's personal space bubble as usual. "This was one of my favorite episodes as a kid."

"Let me guess… the dinosaurs?"

"The dinosaurs," Ryan confirms, glancing up at him with a heart-stopping smile.

"So why didn't you lead with it, instead of the one with the missing faces and that megacomputer?"

"The Mind Robber is a classic meditation on the nature of storytelling," Ryan answers. It sounds like he may have rehearsed it. "Also, bite me."

"Seriously though."

"Seriously? I wanted to give Sarah Grace a chance to grow up a little so she didn't cry through the whole thing and distract you." He shrugs. "Plus, I'd hoped by now we'd be able to watch with the sound on, but I didn't expect her to be such a light sleeper."

Ryan reaches over and tickles his sleeping daughter's cheek. Esposito smacks his hand away, pointing at him in warning. "Wake her up and die."

"Shh," is all Ryan says. He nods toward the screen, where a man and a woman are walking down a deserted street. "It's starting."