Monday: March 8, 2027
12:01 PM; LOS ANGELES, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, KITCHEN
Amber padded into the kitchen, the hood of her fluffy robe pulled over her head. Jensen turned to face her, a soft smile on his face. “Afternoon, sleepy head.”
Amber rubbed at her eyes. “Afternoon,” she repeated.
“Are you hungry?” Jensen asked. Amber nodded. “What’dya want?” The child offered a shrug. Jensen snorted. “You’re a big help.”
“I try.” Amber shoved her hands into her pockets. “Where’s Daddy?”
Jensen chuckled. “I know, sweetheart. He just didn’t go to sleep until real early this morning,” he said. “Like… two hours ago.”
“Because he was working on the Clinstone case,” Jensen said simply. “You know how he is. He can’t put it down once he picks it up.”
Amber nodded. “My teacher says you have to know how to take breaks when you’re working.”
“That’s right, Ber. Daddy’s just really bad at it,” Jensen said. Amber laughed softly. “Is your sister awake?”
“Uh-huh. Reading, I think.”
“Thanks, sweetheart.” He patted her on the shoulder. “I’ll start something for food here in a few, all right?”
Jensen snagged an envelope from the counter, walked past Amber, and headed upstairs. He knocked on Kayla’s door before pushing it open. “Afternoon, Kay.”
Kayla lifted her head, offering a smile. “Good afternoon, Daddy.”
One corner of Jensen’s mouth lifted as he stepped into the room. He sat down on the edge of Kayla’s bed, his hands in his lap. He cleared his throat before handing the envelope over to his daughter. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
Kayla set her book on her lap. “Thanks, Daddy.” She pulled the birthday card out of the envelope, her eyes quickly scanning the words written out within. She set it and her book aside, leaning up to hug Jensen. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Kay.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head before she pulled away from him, folding her legs Indian style. “I’ll be picking up your cake after your dad wakes up. Until then, what do you want me to make for food? Anything sound good?”
“Mm… can we have breakfast?”
“So… pancakes and the usual side stuff?” she asked.
Jensen chuckled. “Sure, baby.” He pushed himself to his feet, reaching back to pat her knee.
“Dad?” Kayla asked once he reached the door.
“Is Daddy okay?”
“Yeah, sweetheart. He’s just tired and overworked,” Jensen said.
Kayla nodded. “I was already awake when he finally went downstairs. You, like… need to take away his laptop.”
Jensen snorted. “I’ve considered that, but then I’d have to take his phone, too,” he said. “And tragically, your father’s not a child, so I can’t ground him.”
Kayla laughed, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “Yeah, I guess,” she agreed. “But, umm… you should find a way to make him sleep. Dad always looks tired.”
Jensen offered a small smile. “I know, baby. I’ll see what I can do.” He tapped a hand against the doorframe. “Don’t get lost in your book. Make sure to come down and eat.”
“I will, Dad. Another… twenty minutes?”
“Sure, Kay. Twenty minutes. Holding you to it.”
She nodded. “I’ll be down in twenty minutes,” she promised. “Until then,” she held up the book, “reading time.”
Jensen scoffed. “Message received, sweetheart. I won’t bother you any more. See you in a few,” he said, grabbing the doorknob and pulling the door shut. He checked in on the sleeping twins before heading back downstairs. Bo stood in the kitchen, a hand pressed to the counter, his head bowed. Jensen frowned, laying a hand on the blonde’s back. “You okay, babe?”
“Tired. Can’t sleep.” Bo straightened himself out, raking a hand through his messy hair.
Jensed laid a hand on Bo’s cheek, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Pain?”
“That and nightmares,” Bo muttered.
Bo sighed, wrapping his good arm around Jensen. “Bridge.”
“I’m sorry, Eli,” Jensen murmured, carefully wrapping the blonde in a hug.
Bo shook his head, closing his eyes. “It’s not your fault.” He cleared his throat. “It has a nice new twist at the end.”
“Yeah?” Jensen asked cautiously.
The blonde nodded. “Steven isn’t the one that kills her. Bernard is. And then… I don’t know.”
Jensen cleared his throat. “Did you kill him in the dream?” Bo shook his head. “What happened?”
“He promised he’d come back for all of you, and then he killed me and I woke up,” Bo said. “But this lets me know you’re okay. That’s all I needed.”
“We’re always gonna be okay, Eli. You’re always gonna wake up, and we’re always going to be here, safe and sound,” Jensen assured.
“I know,” Bo whispered. He wrapped his fingers around the back of Jensen’s shirt. “Kay’s up?”
“Yeah. She’s reading.”
“You should take a shower, make yourself look a bit more…”
“More alive, less like a zombie,” Bo finished for him. “I know.”
“I’m gonna start making food. You go take a shower, we’ll all eat, I’ll pick up Kay’s cake, Dallas will bring the kids over here, your parents and Jamal will come over…” Jensen trailed off, resting his chin on the top of Bo’s head. “Presents, cake and ice cream, the girls will probably play a video game, no more casework tonight, and then we’ll go to bed. Okay?” Bo nodded. “Go start your shower, then. I’ll be here when you’re done.” He squeezed Bo tightly. “I love you.”
Bo inhaled deeply before pushing himself away from Jensen. “I love you, too. I’ll, uh… I’ll be out in a few.”
6:49 PM; LOS ANGELES, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, FAMILY ROOM
Bo sat on the couch, watching Amber and Kayla play the new game Kayla had picked out months ago for her birthday. Bo and Jensen had picked up several new books for her, as well as a sketchbook and an expansive set of art supplies. Recently, the girl had found comfort in sketching, and Bo had taken enough notice to offer an actual sketchbook rather than her homework notes.
Dallas Silver sat down beside Bo, a beer bottle in one hand. “You look like hell, lab geek,” he said.
Bo snorted. “Thanks, Dallas.”
“Hey, it’s what I do.” Dallas cleared his throat. “Not sleeping well?” Bo only shook his head. “Sorry to hear that. Have you tried going to the gym? It makes it easier for me,” he suggested.
“Yes, but running doesn’t interest me as much as boxing. I’m currently useless in that department,” Bo said.
Dallas lifted his shoulders. “Get on one of the bikes or something. Anything to get your heart pumping and tire you out,” he said. He elbowed Bo in the side. “You’re on break, Bo. Vacation. Take a damn nap, sleep all day. No one’s gonna mind.”
Bo chuckled. “I know. I’m hoping I can sleep most of tomorrow,” he said. He drew in a long breath, sighing. “How’s your wife?”
Dallas snorted. “Hateful. She… is hateful,” he said. “It’s slowly getting better, you know, but she still holds it against me every time I leave the house, like me keeping my job is directly betraying her.” He smiled faintly. “Still kinder than when she’s a detective, though,” he added, chuckling.
Bo shook his head. “Give her time. She’ll realize why it happened, and she’ll go back to being totally obsessed with you.”
“I know. Once she’s back to my Kath, she’s going to apologize to you. You have my word.”
“She needs to apologize to Jensen, nod me. She said it to him. She made him cry. He’s the one that deserves an apology,” Bo said.
Dallas nodded. “Of course. I’ll make it happen eventually.”
“My pleasure, lab geek. So, uh… your shoulder.”
“Some dude you don’t know,” Bo said. “Call it a preparational step in becoming your boss,” he said.
Dallas chuckled. “Awesome. You’re a real badass, Bo. You know that?”
Bo rolled his eyes. “I’ve been told.”
“What’s that mean?” Amber asked.
“Umm… that your daddy’s a really cool guy,” Dallas explained.
Bo shook his head, a faint smile playing around the corners of his mouth. “And like every other swear word you’ve heard in your lifetime, don’t go around repeating it. Deal?”
“Deal!” Amber and Kayla exclaimed in near unison.
“Easiest children to raise in the world, I shit you not,” Bo whispered, laying his head back against the couch. “Almost four years, you know. Raising these two has been… perfect.”
“I hear you there. Jaeden was incredibly easy once we worked out a routine to avoid the nightmares,” Dallas said. Bo glanced over at the man, knowing damn well that the nightmares in question were almost always about Dallas, back in the days when Jaeden was the only person besides Dallas himself that knew he was Hangman. “I know what you’re thinking,” Dallas said, his voice quiet. “Jaeden learned incredibly quickly that I wasn’t a monster. I was good at being a boyfriend to Kath and a father figure to him. He understood that.”
“I know, Dal. You’re a good guy. I never doubted that.”
Dallas offered a smile. “Sorry, I know. I’m just used to defending myself.”
“I’m not Jamal.”
“My ears are burning, Mister Austen,” Jamal said, clamping a hand down on the blonde’s good shoulder.
Bo tilted his head back to look at the older man. “My apologies.”
Jamal snorted. “What’re we gossiping about?”
“Currently how amazing our kids are,” Dallas said.
“Mm.” Jamal nodded. “They’re pretty damn amazing. I’ll give you that.” He sighed. “I gotta head on out, kiddo.”
“Would you like me to want me to come with?”
“No. You’re tired and it’s your kid’s birthday. You stay here. I’ll handle it. You enjoy the evening,” Jamal said. Bo only nodded. “Grandpa’s gotta run, girls,” Jamal said, pushing himself away from the couch. Kayla paused the game, pushed herself up, and hurried over to Jamal, throwing her arms around him. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
“You’re very welcome, Kayla. You enjoy your night, okay? Maybe I’ll sneak back in later tonight and steal a piece of cake.”
Kayla grinned. “You better,” she said, holding up a hand.
Jamal smiled, hooking his pinky around here. “Eleven o’clock. If I’m not back in your kitchen by then, I’ll buy you a horse.”
Jamal chuckled, hugging Amber before standing up. He reached back and touched Dallas’s shoulder. “Tomorrow morning, seven o’clock, my office. New paperwork circling for the budget.”
Dallas nodded. “I’ll be there, Pitman.”
“Good.” Jamal backhanded Bo’s shoulder. “I’ll see you soon. Love you, kid.”
“Love you, too, Jamal. Stay safe,” Bo said.
Jamal flashed a smile. “Always am, kid.”
11:00 PM; LOS ANGELES, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, KITCHEN
Jamal leaned back against the kitchen counter, watching Jensen pick Kayla up from the couch in the family room. He held her to his chest, nodding in Jamal’s direction before walking out of the room. Several minutes later, the younger man walked into the kitchen, hands shoved into his pockets.
“She tried so damn hard to stay up till eleven to see you,” Jensen said with a chuckle. “Passed out about half an hour ago.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” Jamal said simply. “What about Bo?”
“Also asleep in the family room. He’s been out for about two hours,” Jensen said. “Figured I’d carry him back to the bedroom after everyone else was asleep. He seems less likely to wake up that way.”
Jamal nodded, clearing his throat. “I’m sorry about his shoulder.”
“He says it’s not your fault.”
“Anything that happens to him is my fault. He’s my boy,” Jamal said plainly. “I could’ve fought him on the decision. He doesn’t need Venetia. It’d be less on his plate that way.”
“He wants to hold up your legacy,” Jensen said.
“What, uh… what’d you have to go do?”
“One of my men was killed,” Jamal said quietly. “I… had to go tell his wife.”
“I’m sorry, Jamal.”
The older man lifted his shoulders. “It becomes less painful after so many times. You grow numb to it,” he said. He sighed. “You should get Bo to bed and grab some sleep for yourself. I’m just going to steal a couple pieces of cake for Frank and myself before I head out again.”
“Of course.” Jensen tapped a hand against Jamal’s shoulder. “Night, Pitman.”
“Goodnight, Jensen. See you around,” Jamal said. Jensen nodded, turning around to walk back to the family room. Jamal watched him scoop up Bo from the couch before the older man turned around and pulled the lid off the cake pan. If nothing else, he could rest easy knowing that Jensen would always be there to pick up his boy when he was down.
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