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“Father!”

Henry jerked - swearing at the scald across his fingers from the open flame. “Jesus, Shawn!” Enough to bellow back his agitation, he shook his burning fingers and swore, again, while gripping the tongs with his left hand to edge the steaks away from the sputtering heat. Dinner salvaged, he grabbed his beer and held the sweating glass against his cooked flesh. The sun was low over the water, now. The view was familiar - comfortable. Odd, too. By turns he felt nostalgic and disconcerted; being back at the old house. Back to the open door he could still feel as though it were a decade earlier; his first Christmas at the house since moving back from Miami.

The mix of voices, at his back, were largely ignored. He only lifted his head when feet stepped out onto the deck behind him.

“Yo, Pops. How's dinner? Gus is starved and keeps threatening to order pizza.”

“Uh, no; you were the one threatening to order pizza, Shawn. I told you we should have picked up snacks on the way but you kept insisting the drive wouldn't take that long.”

“Dude, how was I supposed to know it would take over five hours?”

“Maybe because you've driven it six times in the last three months!”

Rubbing his forehead, Henry turned towards the bickering voices. “You know, I am not obligated to feed you just because you happen to be my son.”

Shawn looked aghast. “Are you kidding me, right now? What about Gus!?”

Flicking his thumb along his nose, Gus grinned. “Please; he loves me.”

Leaning around the two men, Henry squinted towards the open kitchen. “Where's Juliet?”

Grabbing a bowl of chips that had been set out on the counter, Shawn returned - munching a small handful. “She's getting Millie out of the car. They'll be right in.”

Henry grimaced. “You brought her? And I suppose you didn't run this past Carlton, first.”

Dropping a chip back into the bowl, Shawn glared at his father. “You know, this is low, even for you. She loves you! I can't understand why you won't accept your own granddaughter!”

Henry choked on his next sip of beer. “Okay, she is not my granddaughter.”

“This is because she's adopted, isn't it. Well get used to it, dad! She's family, whether you like it or not!” Appetite ruined, apparently, Shawn shoved the bowl of chips towards his friend. Gus wasted no time diving into the tortillas.

There was little time to develop their spat as, seconds later, a tiny ball of fluff careened into the back of Shawn's legs; squalling wildly. Dropping to his haunches, Shawn snatched up the wriggling mass of black and white. “There's my Millie-Willy! You have kissies for daddy?”

Both Henry and Gus wrinkled their noses at the slobbering bath the puppy painted across Shawn's lips and cheeks. Ignoring her husband, Juliet bypassed the joyful reunion of man and dog to give her father-in-law a hug.

“Hey, Henry, how was your fishing trip?”

“Ah, you know. Rained almost every day but we managed to catch enough salmon to fill the freezer.”

“Hold on, hold on... did you say 'we'? Who's we, pray tell?” Leaving the puppy to explore, and probably pee on something, Shawn rocked lowered eyebrows towards his father. “Don't tell me you and Lassie are back to being bait buddies?”

Gus smirked. “Say that three times fast.”

Shawn proceeded to do just that - only barely managing to avoid a verbal pitfall that would have put him off dinner completely. Juliet cleared her throat and offered a glare that could, possibly, have been chilling if it wasn't for the intervention of a thrilled toddler in their midst.

“Na-na Joo!”

Juliet's entire face brightened as Lily galloped into the kitchen - trailed by adoring father.

“Lily pad! How's my girl!?”

Carlton ruffled his fingers through her hair, drawing a loud giggle as the child ducked away and ran outside; Millie scampering behind her. Still grinning at his daughter, Carlton turned towards the rest of the group. “Shawn, Guster. I'm fixing a bowl of punch. I assume I can count on you not to spike it.”

“Please, Lassie, you know I don't count.” Shawn scoffed. Behind him his father suddenly cursed.

“Dammit, I forgot the juice!” He immediately wiped his hands before tossing his towel on the counter. “Shawn, watch the steaks while I run to the store.”

Sputtering, Shawn scowled after the older man. “Woah, woah, woah... if I wanted to cook I wouldn't have quit that baking class last summer.”

Gus huffed out a laugh. “Dude, that was a one day workshop and the only baking you did involved decorating cookies and eating your weight on cupcakes.”

Arms crossed, Shawn lifted his lip. “Shows what you know. I also learned the correct technique for sprinkling non parallels.”

“Nonpareils.” Juliet corrected, absently, while watching Lily outside as she played tug with the puppy - giggling as she fell back in the grass.

“Speaking of cupcakes-” Gus prodded Shawn's belly.

"Stop it!"

"You need to work out Shawn! You've got baby fat rolls on your wrists!"

Twisting away from his buddy's rude finger, Shawn stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I do not! That's a crease from resting my arm on the steering wheel!"

"I think you're developing man boo.."

Shawn gasped, scandalized. "Bite your tongue! Bro code 101, man; there are some sacred lines that must never, ever be crossed."

Gus pondered that; he really did. "I think there's still some old training bras in Joy's old room."

Shawn glared; prepared to make a few comments regarding Joy's underthings until he reconsidered at a side-eye from Juliet.

Gus, however, continued to smile. "Look on the bright side Shawn, now you have a place to hide your house key."

"Dude, okay, first of all that makes no sense! Why would I keep my extra key on me if the whole point is hiding it at my apartment?"

"You could carry your wallet there too."

“Okay, that's just hurtful, man. You've hurt me. In my special place.”

Gus wrinkled his nose. Juliet, however, finally came to Shawn's rescue as she wrapped her arms around him from the back and kissed his neck. “Don't listen to him, sweetheart. I love your curves.”

Smug, Shawn jerked his chin towards his friend. “See that? Jules loves me for who I am. Why must you hold me to impossible standards, dude?”

“Who wants to help dice potatoes?” Marlowe's voice lifted above the chatter, hefting a large knife in her right hand while the left was occupied with an economy sized sack of red spuds. Shawn waved both hands above his head before immediately pointing to the side.

“Gus just told me he was looking for a job. He felt bad about forgetting the juice and wanted to, and I quote, 'do his part'.”

“I said no such thing! And your dad was the one that forgot the juice!” Gus hissed back - though it was overshadowed by Marlowe's grin.

“That's great, Gus! Thank you so much, I really appreciate this!” Pointing towards his friend with the double fingered promise of future retribution, Gus followed Marlowe towards the sink to begin the monumental task of peeling and chopping. Comfortably lounging next to Juliet, Shawn waved his friend on while debating about a second beer.

“Is something burning?”

Shawn lifted his brows at his wife until, abruptly, he remembered the unwelcome responsibility that had been thrust upon him.

“Crap!”

*`*`*

A little charred but at least steak could hold up to a bit of blackening along the edge. Shawn liked his well done, at any rate; he wasn't bloodthirsty like his father. Speaking of...

“How long does it take to get juice...?” He muttered, sending a third text. Standing nearby, Juliet smiled.

“Well, maybe if you'd stop asking him to pick up additional snacks...”

Tucking away his phone, Shawn snagged a chocolate covered pretzel from the bowl sitting out on the kitchen table. “Tell me you didn't want eggnog.”

Juliet lifted her cup. “What am I drinking, right now?”

Sniffing, Shawn frowned at the mixture. “Uh, looks like mostly cream with nutmeg sprinkled on top. For a connoisseur of eggnog, however, it isn't the real thing unless it kills a minimum of eight brain cells.”

Leaning forward for a long kiss, Juliet ran her tongue across his lower lip.” What do you think about the taste, now?”

Shawn flushed through a grin; smacking his lips. “I don't think I got enough. I might need some more...” Pulling her body tightly against him, Shawn quickly forgot time, date, and location... at least until Lassiter cleared his throat.

“You know, if I'd wanted to see that I'd watch National Geographic. As it is, I have a daughter whom I'd like to postpone the birds and bees talk for a few more years.”

Shawn tilted his head. “Dude, there's a birds and bees talk?”

A retort was waylaid when Carlton's phone trilled. “Lassiter...”

Juliet, who'd been rubbing her fingers across the back of Shawn's hand, stiffened at the expression that moved across her former partner's face. His steps towards the screen door were halted at whatever he was hearing on the other end. It was his upward glance; meeting Shawn's eyes, however, that speared cold though Shawn's chest.

“What...?”

Juliet curled her hand around Shawn's as Lassiter finished his call.

“I'm on my way. I'll meet you there.”

“Lassie, what...?”

Gus arrived from the living room in time to hear Lassiter's reply.

“There's an active shooter situation downtown. All hands on deck.” He was already strapping on his holster when Juliet grabbed her jacket.

“I'm coming with you.”

“Jules-”

“Stay here, Shawn.”

Shawn shook his head. “Wait; Lassie, what aren't you telling me?”

“Spencer, I don't have time for this.”

“Then I'm coming with.”

“Me too.” Gus insisted, standing next to Shawn with his arms crossed. Shawn glanced at him and they shared a nod.

“Look, Spencer, just stay here!” Lily hiccuped a cry and Carlton immediately rubbed his face in remorse while Marlowe bent to hug the child - worried eyes locked on her husband.

Realization hollowed Shawn's stomach - an unreality that tried to send a string of denial from his lips before he could get the full story and battled not to lose all trace of composure as Lassiter took a deep breath.

“The shooter fired on several shoppers at the mall before units arrived. Eight people were hit; two are in severe condition. The shooter fled the scene but dispatch received a call that he'd barricaded himself in a gas station on First Street along with four hostages.” Fingers tapping at his hip, Lassiter looked Shawn in the eyes. “Henry was the one who called it in. He's one of the hostages.”

*`*`*

A whole cadre of units had crowded the small parking lot outside Phil's Fill by the time Lassiter et al arrived. Brannigan had been speaking with several officers when they pulled up but broke away to join them behind the dubious protection of another black and white. She nodded to Shawn and Gus but otherwise kept her attention on her Chief.

“From what Henry's told us, he has three of the hostages contained behind the register. He's wearing a military tactical vest and is armed with two pistols and a large knife. He also appears to have ammo to spare.”

“Wait a minute,” Gus frowned. “Why would the guy let Henry keep his phone?”

Shawn gulped. “Because the shooter doesn't know he's in there...” He rubbed at his forehead until the skin flushed pink. He couldn't escape the repeating image of his father taking a round in the chest - helplessly watching his dad thrown back into the sand, bleeding, dying...

“Lassie, you have to get him out of there...” The panic to race inside thrummed in the back of his head. Juliet, probably figuring out his mindset based on the tension in his limbs, wrapped a hand around his wrist and rubbed his knuckles.

“He's going to be okay, Shawn.”

It was Brannigan, however, who provided the greatest source of comfort when she walked up to Shawn and held out her phone. “Here.”

Confusion chased across his face for only a moment before Shawn clutched the phone and turned from his friends.

“Dad? Dad? You okay? Are you hurt? Are you in the men's room or did you have to duck into the women's? Do they have pink toilets?”

“Okay, okay, hold on- Shawn!” Even at a whisper his dad was able to put a lid on the frantic babble. “Look, I'm fine. He doesn't know I'm here and so far he's only done a basic sweep of the aisles. He looks young. Obviously in over his head; whatever his plan may have been.”

Shawn swallowed. A novice didn't make him any less terrifying. It just made their shooter that much more unpredictable. At his back, Lassiter had begun shouting through a bullhorn - the script familiar and ineffective. “Yeah, well, everything's gonna be just fine, okay? We got Lassie here and Jules and Brannigan and... some guy in a hotdog costume...” Shawn tilted his head. “You know, I think hotdog dude is just a mascot for the Sonic across the street...” He chewed his lip. “And now I want a Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap.”

“Tell me about it. I'm guessing the steaks are charcoal by now.”

Shrugging, Shawn edged around an empty squad car - keeping well away from the officers and taking a second to nod at Gus; who'd been watching him with a very canine rumple to his velvety forehead. “I dunno. I mean, Marlowe is in charge so, if anything, they'll probably be even better than when you cook them.”

His dad chuckled. “Yeah; probably.”

Lassie was still cajoling and demanding and borderline threatening in that stern, ass clenching way of his but Shawn wasn't up for huddling close to the core group. He waved towards Juliet - getting her attention before pointing towards an embankment not far from the cluster of patrol cars. He didn't want to get too far in case his dad needed to speak to Brannigan or Lassiter. Nodding back, Juliet gave him a tight smile before returning to stand alongside Lassie.

He could hear his father's breathing go shallow, followed by a barely there click as he, obviously, eased open the bathroom door to sneak a peek at the gunman. After another second, the door clicked again and there was a deeper breath. “Still in the same spot.”

Not much of a view, where he stood. The parking lot was cracked with rubbery repair strips crisscrossing between the painted rows. Across the highway were patches of trees and brush separated by a dented guardrail and a wide swath of reddish sand.

“Listen... kiddo...”

Shawn clenched a fist with his free hand. “I'm not doing this with you right now.”

“Shawn, I need you to listen to me...”

“Dad, no, we are not going to do this.” Shawn shook his head - feet taking him in a wide circle.

“Kid, you and I both know Lassiter is one of the best but things can still go South and I need you to hear me right now-”

Seething, Shawn spun from the highway - stalking further into the parking lot as his blood suddenly boiled to a fever.

“Dad, I can't...”

“Shawn, just stop talking and let me...”

“Jules is pregnant!” He shouted - pressing his fingers over his mouth in the silent seconds following - feeling them tremble against his lips. He swallowed and pulled in breaths through his nose until he felt he could make his voice work. “We... we, ah... we found out...” He laughed, hard, “we found out two weeks ago. We were going to tell you tomorrow morning...” His throat worked around a thick lump as he kicked the toe of his shoe through the detritus piled up alongside the curb. “Kind of a really, really, really, late Christmas present.” Then he pondered; tilting his head in a nod. “Or... maybe a slightly late birthday present...” He sniffed, rubbing his nose.

“Shawn...”

“The point is you do not get to just walk away before you even meet your grandchild! Okay? You do not get to do that!” The cuff of his sleeve swiped at the wet sliding down his cheek. God, he had heard pregnancy made people hormonal but he had thought it was just the mothers!

Of course, from the sound on the other end of the line, apparently it affected grandparents too. “Okay, kid.”

Shawn nodded - eyes closed as he pressed the phone against his shoulder for a moment and stamped down the tremor that ran from scalp to toes. “Look, I should get you back to Lassie. Sounds like things are heating up and I...”

And that's when everything went to hell.

*`*`*

Later, the news media would talk about the amazing actions of the Santa Barbara Chief of Police, along with several key individuals. Larger outlets would spread the story state to state - bringing reporters from outlets as humble as the Santa Barbara Independent to mammoth networks like CNN and Newsweek. Particularly jarring was a request, put out by one well-known network, requesting an appearance in The View.

In the moment, though, all Shawn had cared about was the balding figure being led to a stretcher.

He'd seen the blood; heard the word “gunshot” and had... well, Gus had described it using words like “meltdown” and “freak out” and “hypertensive...” Something...

Whatever.

The thing was, it had been fine - it was just fine.

If life was a made for TV movie starring Jason Bateman the wound would have been considered a scratch. It was a scratch. More or less. In his arm... and requiring a tiny bit of surgery but still! Just a scratch...ish.

Shawn had, at no point, hid in the hospital bathroom while trying to control his breathing and dabbing at the alarming amount of wet pouring down his face.

And, if he had, it was just hormones.

It had helped to hug his wife. And his best friend. And Lassie - who had squirmed and complained and said something about a restraining order but at least he'd slipped in a tiny back pat before wriggling away to talk to the press.

What had helped, most of all, though, was when he'd finally been allowed into the private room to sit next to his father's bed.

“Okay, this is really becoming a bad habit.”

His father huffed at him but managed to look significantly more alive than the last time he'd occupied a hospital cot. And, other than a needle in his hand and a couple of tubes up his nose, he was sporting less hardware, too.

“Here I thought I'd be done with this nonsense after retiring. Twice. Funny, the worst injury I got, while on active duty, was a twisted ankle when I slipped on some idiot's sidewalk.”

Shawn lifted an eyebrow. “Uh... Mom told me you slipped on our sidewalk because you forgot to put down salt before going to work that morning.”

Scoffing, Henry folded his arms - only to wince and lay the left one back on its pillow. “Yeah, well, your mother may have a good memory but she doesn't always get her stories straight.”

One leg crossed over the other, Shawn picked at the cuff of his jeans where a small amount of mud had spattered on the seam.

“I thought you...” He rolled his lower lip between his teeth. Spreading one hand down his jaw, he scratched at the stubble he'd allowed to grow a titch too long. Juliet had been griping about beard burn recently - probably should deal with that at some point. He hitched through a breath and kept his eyes on the floor. “So you... you feeling okay, then?”

The heavy breath was followed by a grunt as his dad pushed himself a little higher on the mattress - scowling when he couldn't quite get enough purchase with one hand.

Shawn squinted his eyes towards the struggle. “You know, I think there's a remote that will lift the head of your mattress. Or... you could just keep flopping like a landed fish.”

Rolling his eyes Henry gestured to the side. “Really nice, kid. Way to kill the moment.”

“We were having a moment?” Lifting from his chair, Shawn finally dug around until he found the remote shoved down near the foot of the bed. Fiddling for a second, he found the control that angled the mattress up several inches. His father sighed and nodded at him.

“Thanks.”

“No problem.” Setting the remote down within reach, Shawn settled himself back in his chair and clasped his hands between his knees. “So... obviously they didn't need to amputate. Which is too bad cause I could have gotten you a sweet terminator arm off a 3D printer.”

“Oh, yeah, what a missed opportunity.”

His smile felt a little less tight that time.

“So, did you tell your mother, yet?”

Wrinkling his nose, Shawn frowned. “Uh, you sure she really needs to know you got shot, again? I mean, you weren't even in a coma this time.”

The eye roll was much more elaborate than the last one. “Jesus, Shawn, I'm not talking about my arm. I'm asking if she knows she's about to be a grandmother!”

Shawn's mouth made a perfect O at dawning comprehension. Right... And, just like that, his face screwed up.

“Oh my God... I'm gonna be a dad!”

Henry's face split in an enormous grin - eyes shining at his overwhelmed offspring. “Yeah... you are.” Reaching out with his uninjured hand, he gripped Shawn's wrist, tightly. “Congratulations, kid. I'm proud of you.”

Grinning just as much, Shawn shifted until he could wrap both his hands around his dad's fingers. It didn't seem to matter that there was a shimmer of moisture on their cheeks. It just meant that, in that moment, everything was perfect.

“Merry Christmas, Dad.”

Henry squeezed his hand. “Merry Christmas, Shawn. I love you, kid.”


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