Jack came back the next day, and the day after. Every visit, he was in clean clothes with a smile on his face. He spoke civilly and did not press to come into the house.

"So?" Jack asked, rubbing his hands together on Raydor's front porch. "What do you say? It's been three days."

Raydor licked her lips before biting her bottom one. "A deal's a deal," she said finally. "But hear me now, Jack," she continued before he could get excited, "if you put a toe out of line in the presence of Emily and Ricky, if you so much as touch any alcohol, you will sincerely regret it."

"Understood," said Jack with a charming smile. "So how about dinner? My treat."

Raydor nodded and gave a tight smile that was betrayed by her narrowed eyes. Details were settled and Jack left.

When Hobbs came back from running errands, it was to find Raydor sitting on a couch with a cold cup of tea in one hand and the nails of the other in her mouth. "Where are the kids?" she asked.

Raydor seemed to break from a trance. She took her hand from her mouth and smiled at Hobbs. "Ricky's down for a nap and Emily's decorating cookies in the kitchen."

Hobbs put her bags aside and settled herself next to her housemate. "Talk to me."

Raydor sighed and looked at her ceiling for a few moments before complying. "Jack made it three days," she said finally. "I've had every bar and store that sells liquor in the area on alert and I've heard nothing from any of them. I agreed to bring the kids to meet him for dinner tonight."

"Well," said Hobbs thoughtfully, "allow me to play devil's advocate. It seems that he's trying to get things back on track, maybe."

"Why now?" Raydor asked. "That's what's bothering me. Why now?"

"Tomorrow's Christmas Eve," said Hobbs with a shrug. "Makes people ponder what they really care about."

Raydor shook her head. "Not Jack," she said. "He spent the last two Christmases we were together sleeping off major hangovers, and I have no idea where he was last year. He wants something, I'm sure of it."

"Maybe what he wants, Sharon, is to spend Christmas with his family," Hobbs suggested.

Raydor exhaled carefully before shaking her head as if to clear it, then looking at Hobbs with a smile in place. "So you said your parents are coming by tonight?"

"Yeah, they want to see the new place," said Hobbs, deciding to allow the subject change. "They're staying at a hotel overnight, then they'll be off first thing in the morning to go spend the holiday with my brother and his family. I'll probably be back pretty late, so don't wait up or anything."

"Mom, I'm out of red frosting," said Emily.

"Oh, sweetie!" Raydor exclaimed upon catching sight of her daughter. She laughed lightly as she got off the couch. "You must be working very hard to have gotten so much frosting on your face and clothes!"

Emily looked down at her well-worn shirt with a scene from "The Nutcracker" on it and gasped. "Oh no! My ballerina! Mommy, can you fix it?"

"Yes, honey, I can get the dye out of your ballerina when I wash your shirt," said Raydor with a grin. "Let's get to that red frosting, huh?"

"Ok, but you can't look at the cookies," said Emily seriously. "They're a surprise!"

"Oh? Well I've got a bit of a surprise for you later today," said Raydor, allowing herself to be led into the kitchen by her daughter.

"What's the surprise?" Emily asked eagerly

Hobbs closed the front door behind herself a little after midnight and sighed as she rested her weight against it and took off her shoes. She loved her parents and had been happy to see them, but was reminded of why she enjoyed not living with them. The first hour or so had been wonderful, filled with simple talk, recalling memories, and catching up. Then her father had started asking more and more detailed questions about her soon-to-be job and her mother had begun probing into her romantic life, or lack thereof.

Hobbs opened the refrigerator and pushed aside a couple of takeout boxes of leftovers and a carton of milk to pull out one of her tasty yogurts buried toward the back of the top shelf. She had learned to hide her favorite foods masterfully from Emily's curious little hands. Ricky, too, was figuring out how to find his own favorite foods and it was only a matter of time before he found out how to get to the higher levels of the fridge he could not yet reach.

Hobbs had been about to close the fridge when she did a double take on the milk she had pushed aside. It was not the brand usually in the house. Hobbs examined the door of the fridge to see nearly a full gallon of the usual stuff. She slowly closed the door, pondering the mystery milk, before shrugging, grabbing a spoon, and retreating to her room.

Despite her late night out, Hobbs's body would not let her sleep past six in the morning. So it was that she dragged herself out of bed and went downstairs. She had just gotten herself a bowl when Raydor joined her in the kitchen.

"Morning, Sharon," said Hobbs pleasantly. "How'd dinner go?"

"I'm – " said Raydor distractedly, "I'm still figuring that out. Why don't you tell me how things went with your parents?"

Hobbs shrugged and decided to give her friend time to process. She began chatting as she fished out her cereal and poured some into her bowl. "It went pretty well. It's always nice to catch up in person, rather than by letter, of course. It also definitely renewed my appreciation for living on my own, so to speak."

Hobbs grabbed the milk she had discovered the previous night off the top shelf and drowned her cereal in it. "My mother seems to think that living in a house with children will convince me to become an active participant in the dating scene. I'd be worried about her pressing me, but she's going to find out tomorrow as part of her Christmas gift that my brother and his wife are expecting twins. That'll keep her busy for a while."

Hobbs laughed to herself and shoved a spoonful of cereal into her mouth before promptly spitting it out. "Oh my God! This doesn't taste right."

"Did you buy that milk?" Raydor asked, suddenly keenly aware of everything around her.

"No, I thought you did," said Hobbs. "You're closer to the fridge. Can you grab it off the top shelf and smell it? Maybe it's expired."

Raydor, instead, reached across the counter and grabbed Hobbs's bowl. She sniffed the contents, then took a sip of the milk before spitting it out. "It's not expired," she half-growled. "It's got vodka in it. A lot of vodka."

Hobbs's eye widened. "You're right! I haven't had vodka in over a year! I've forgotten what it's like! How'd we get spiked milk?"

Raydor flung open the fridge and ripped the foreign milk from the top shelf. "Neither of us bought it, Andrea. It was planted." She slammed the door shut and began stomping, flat footed, out of the kitchen. "I'm getting dressed and going out. I'll be back before long. Don't answer anything the kids ask if they wake up before I get back."

"Sharon, what - ?" Hobbs let her question stop short as she remembered just who Raydor had gone to dinner with.

When Raydor returned over an hour later, she was in an absolute rage. She slammed the door, threw her purse onto the couch with such force it bounced onto the floor, and every one of her steps resounded through the entire house.

"Mommy?" asked little Ricky timidly.

Raydor's mood turned on a dime. She smiled at her son and stepped, almost silently, over to him before picking him up. "Good morning, little man," she said pleasantly before blowing a raspberry into his neck. "You sleep well?"

"Yeah," said Ricky. "Why loud, Mommy?"

Raydor's smile faltered slightly before returning to full brilliance. "I wanted to make sure you could find me," she said.

"Oh," said Ricky, as if the explanation were completely and totally logical. "Breksticks?"

Raydor chuckled. "Yes, let's get you breakfast." She set him down and led him into the kitchen where Hobbs was sitting with Emily. The little girl was leaving out no detail in telling Hobbs about her dinner with her father.

"And then Daddy took us to get ice cream," Emily said excitedly. "I had pink ice cream, and Mommy shared her chocolate with Ricky. He's too little to get his own ice cream. He'd just get it all over himself, so Mommy helps him."

"I see," said Hobbs. She looked past Emily and made brief eye contact with Raydor, but the other woman quickly looked away to begin assembling her son's breakfast.

"And then Daddy told us about his new job!" said Emily, beginning to bounce in her seat. "He's going to be here all the time now, he says! He said got a job here. He said he was tired of being so far away from me. So now he can take me out for ice cream all the time!"

"You father's not going to be taking you out for ice cream, Emily," said Raydor with a harsher tone than she typically used with her children. She set Ricky up in his usual chair and put a glass of milk in front of him before grabbing a knife and beginning to cut up an apple.

"Why not?" Emily whined.

"Your father's job is a little further away than he thought," Raydor tried to say patiently. She very nearly sliced her finger instead of the apple.

"Will he be here tomorrow for Christmas?" Emily asked.

"No," Raydor answered. She put a spoonful of peanut butter on the plate with the apple and gave it to Ricky.

"But he promised!" Emily burst. "He said he would be here, and you said he could come!"

"Sometimes, Emily, people can't keep their promises," said Raydor, beginning to cut up another apple for herself.

"But – "

"Emily, why don't you go get dressed and brush your teeth?" Hobbs suggested.

"There you go, sweetie," said Raydor, her usual tone suddenly back in place. "Once you've done that you can work on the cards you were so excited about yesterday."

"He promised," Emily stated, pushing herself away from the table. "He's going to be here. He promised." She raised her head high as she strode out of the kitchen with confidence in her statement.

Very little was said as Ricky finished his food before scuttling off to go play.

Hobbs simply continued to sit and watch as Raydor dragged peanut butter around her plate with an apple slice, making no effort to bring the food to her mouth.

"I'm such an idiot," said Raydor finally.

Hobbs's eyebrows drew together. "I've heard you be called a lot of things, Sharon. Idiot's not really one of them."

"I so badly wanted to believe Jack could change," said Raydor, tears welling in her eyes. "When he actually showed up on time to get me and the kids I started twisting facts to fit what I wanted to be true instead of looking at where the facts actually pointed. Andrea, I messed up."

"He managed to scrape himself together to hold up his end of the three day deal," said Hobbs. "You held up your end. So Emily and Ricky think the world of him. So what? I thought you wanted that door to be open."

"He planned it all, Andrea! Last night he was on time, well dressed, charming. He focused on the kids, played with them, talked with them, paid for dinner and dessert. My God, I should have seen it!"

Hobbs pursed her lips as she observed Raydor. The woman shook her head and breathed deeply several times in desperation to keep her tears at bay. Hobbs waited. There was more, she knew, and it would come soon enough.

After more than a minute passed, Raydor took one last deep breath before continuing. "When I said it was time to get the kids back home, Emily started whining because she wanted to stay out. Jack actually backed me up. He brought us all the way to the door and, um… Oh, I'm so stupid!"

"Sharon, you're starting to make me nervous!" Hobbs said.

"I let him spend the night, Andrea," Raydor admitted in a whisper. "I let him spend the night with me."

Hobbs exhaled slowly and carefully calculated her response. "Well – "

"That was what he really wanted out of all this," said Raydor smally. "He wanted access to my room. He racked up debts with some scary people, and I keep records of what debts I've paid, but I don't tell him. He wanted copies of those records so he could know where it was safe for him to be. He got them after I fell asleep, and then he left."

"Sh-Sharon, he didn't – " Hobbs cleared her throat uncomfortably. "Did he force you to – "

"No, he didn't," said Raydor, burying her face in her hands. "I told you I'm an idiot. Such an idiot! I fell for it all!"

Hobbs shuddered as she exhaled and collapsed backward into her chair. "Well, from here let's – "

"I haven't told you the worst part," said Raydor lowly.

"Oh, Sharon, I don't really need details," Hobbs said with a wince.

"The milk," said Raydor, face still in hands.

"The – The milk?" Hobbs asked confusedly. She had forgotten all about it.

"I told you Jack planned everything. He bought the vodka a week ago because he knew I'd check on him once he started the three days. He spiked the milk. He put it in the fridge. He knows I pour Emily and Ricky a glass of milk with their breakfast every day, and that I make sure they drink it. It'd only be a matter of time before I used the milk he put in there."

Hobbs felt her jaw drop and made no effort to pick it back up. "Oh – Oh my God!" she finally exclaimed. In a frantic whisper, she continued, "His own children, really? If they'd had vodka of all things? With how much was in there, and with their tiny stomachs? They'd have to be rushed to a hospital!"

"And they would get taken away from me," said Raydor thickly, tears beginning to seep through her fingers. "My sole custody would come into question. Jack could very well have gotten them, or they could have gone into foster care."

Hobbs found herself truly speechless. She opened and closed her mouth several times, but no sound came out. She was appalled and repulsed to her very core.

"It was all too good to be true, and I should have seen it," said Raydor. She finally moved her hands to show Hobbs her red, puffy eyes and runny nose. "I so badly wanted to believe that I could have the man I married back that I almost cost my children their safety and security. I almost made my children lose their home, Andrea!" Raydor started to cry in earnest, her shoulders convulsing with sobs. "I could have lost them!"

Hobbs launched out of her chair and wrapped her arms around Raydor tightly. She shushed her gently and rocked slightly, fighting to maintain her own composure as she desperately tried to help her friend regain hers.

"Sharon, are you sure you still want everyone coming over?" Hobbs asked. She had been helping Raydor bustle about the house since finishing dinner the day previous, doing last minute decorating and cleaning for the Christmas party they were hosting. It did not take long for Hobbs to come to the conclusion that her friend was simply finding everything possible with which to distract herself.

"Of course I still want everyone coming over," said Raydor. As she spoke she wove her wand through the air, twirling garland around the railing on the stairs. "Everyone's planned to be here, and I'm happy to host!"

"Yeah, but Sharon, I know you didn't sleep last night," said Hobbs.

"I slept," said Raydor.

"No, you didn't. The front door was unlocked when I came down for breakfast. You always lock it before going upstairs for the night," Hobbs argued. "I've even seen you unlock it just to lock it again!"

"Look," said Raydor with a sigh. "I've made mistakes I'm having difficulty dealing with. Give me time, Andrea. I'll work it out. In the mean time, I've begged you – "

"Not to tell the guys," said Hobbs with a roll of her eyes. "I don't think that's the right call, Sharon. I really don't."

"Can you imagine how Julio would react?" Raydor asked with a scoff. "Or what stupid thing Andy might do? No, they stay in the dark. It's better that way."

"Sharon, they should know incase – "

"No, Andrea!" Raydor insisted.

Hobbs bit the inside of her cheek and pursed her lips. She exhaled heavily before dropping the subject. "What do you need help with?"

"Ho, ho, ho!" called Flynn, walking through the front door.

"What I need, Andrea, is for everything and everyone to act normal," said Raydor lowly before Flynn entered the living room. "Andy! You're a little early," she said cheerfully.

Hobbs resumed chewing her cheek while Provenza came in with a Santa hat on his head and a box in his arms.

"Thanks for holding the door open for me, Flynn," said Provenza sourly.

"Oh, is that the – " Raydor started.

"Food you asked us to bring?" finished Provenza. "Yes, and I'm rather tired of carrying it," he added with a pointed look at his roommate.

Raydor hurried over, took the box from Provenza, and headed to the kitchen, Flynn on her tail to help.

Provenza rolled his shoulders irritably. "Well what's got you in such a great mood?" he asked, observing Hobbs as he flopped down on a couch.

Hobbs looked over her shoulder to check that Raydor was not going to pop back into the living room. "Look, Sharon asked me not to say anything, but I need to talk to you and Mike later."

"I assume this has something to do with her ass of a husband?" Provenza growled.

"That'd be a good guess," said Hobbs.

Provenza nodded and leaned back into the couch, settling himself for a nap. "I'll find the opportunity for the three of us to slip away for a bit at some point tonight."

"Thanks," said Hobbs. "Where are Mike and Julio, anyway?"

"They're purposely coming late with our surprise," said Provenza. "Could you leave me alone now? Can't you see I'm trying to sleep?"

"Good luck with that once Emily and Ricky come down," said Hobbs, patting Provenza's head as she walked past him to greet Morales, who had just come in the door.

Buzz arrived before long and was quickly stolen away by Ricky to play with a laptop. The little boy had been dressed for the day by his sister. He had antlers on his head, though they fell off every other minute. The red lipstick on his nose was smeared before long and, when Emily was not looking, Buzz wiped it off before the boy could get anything on the carpet or furniture.

Emily, once she came downstairs, was kept close by her mother. Every time the girl tried to leave her sight, Raydor found some thing or another for her to do to keep her nearby.

"Emily, why don't you lay out the cookies you decorated on that tray on the table?" Raydor suggested when Emily showed interest in following Morales into the living room.

"We haven't eaten dinner yet," said Emily. "You always say that we can't have dessert before dinner!"

"You're very right," said Raydor with a wide smile, "but today's a special occasion."

Emily positively beamed and moved as fast as she possibly could to grab the cookies and set them out before her mother could change her mind. The cookies were all slathered with frosting and many had people's names, or at least the first letter of a name, scrawled out on them with all the finesse a six year old could produce.

"Those look very nice, Emily," said Raydor. "Are the names to make sure everyone has their fair share?"

"Yeah," said Emily. "Since we're not doing real presents this year, I thought these could be presents!"

"That was very thoughtful, sweetie," said Raydor, kissing the top of her daughter's head.

"And I made some for Daddy, too," said Emily proudly, pointing at a tree-shaped cookie with "Dad" written roughly.

Raydor's body seemed to shut down momentarily before she showed her daughter a sad, tense smile. "That was very nice, Emily, but I told you that Daddy's not going to make it today."

"He promised," said Emily. "You never break your promises, and you and Daddy love each other, which means that you do all the same things, so he won't break his promises either!"

Raydor stroked her daughter's hair as anger and pity both swept across her face. "If you've set the cookies like you want them, why don't we take the tray into the living room?"

"Okay!" said Emily cheerily. She carefully picked up the tray and started making her way slowly out of the kitchen.

"Andy, where are Mike and Julio?" Raydor asked, giving Emily a head start. "They've got the ham!"

"Maybe they went out to kill the pig, themselves," said Flynn with a shrug. "I don't know."

Raydor looked skyward for a moment before catching up to her daughter and joining the crowd in the living room.

Finally, Tao walked into the living room and beckoned everyone's attention. "Hey, Emily, Ricky, come here!"

The children responded quickly, coming right to Tao's feet.

"Where's Jul-lo?" Ricky asked.

"Julio's bringing something in that's kind of heavy," said Tao. "I think he could use some help!"

Emily and Ricky sped out of the living room and Tao waved for everyone else to follow, allowing Raydor to take lead.

Raydor stopped short in her doorway upon catching sight of Sanchez dragging a large red bag across her lawn. "That's not – " she choked out. She cleared her throat and tried again. "That's not what I think it is, is it?"

"That depends on what you think it is," said Provenza smartly.

"Emily, Ricky! Good, you're here," said Sanchez. He stopped lugging the bag and crouched down to be at eye level with the children. "Now, you said that Santa wasn't going to be able to make it to your house this year, right?"

"Mommy said that he's really busy," said Emily while her brother nodded vigorously. "He's got a lot of kids to help that don't have as much as me and Ricky."

"That's right, he does," said Tao, joining his partner in crouching by the children. "Julio and I thought that we might help him a little bit, though."

"So since you two have been so good and been listening really well to your mom, Mike and I tracked Santa down," said Sanchez, "and we asked if we could deliver your presents for him."

"So Santa loaded up one of his bags and we brought it all the way over here for you!" said Tao.

Emily squealed loudly and jumped onto Sanchez. "Thank you!" she screamed. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

Ricky clapped his hands and, after requesting Tao's assistance, started dragging the bag the rest of the way to the house.

Raydor threw her hands over her mouth and nose. Tears welled in her eyes as she watched her children assist in getting the bag into the house and started unloading under the tree.

"Merry Christmas, Sharon," said Provenza before heading over to direct traffic at the tree.

"You shouldn't have," Raydor breathed. "You really shouldn't have! This was all of you?"

"No," said Flynn. "Didn't you hear Mike and Julio? It was Santa."

Raydor pushed Flynn playfully. "I can't believe you did this."

"Well, after we all agreed not to get each other anything, we decided to go behind your back and pitch in to get the kids some stuff," said Morales with a snarky smile.

"You have to be sure to tell me how much – "

"Sharon, you're not paying us back," said Hobbs with an amused chortle. "We all know things are tight for you right now, hence your telling the kids that Santa wouldn't be able to make it this year."

"All we did was take the money we would have spent on gifts for each other and put it into a pot for Emily and Ricky," said Flynn. "No big deal."

"Why don't you sit down while they start opening?" Buzz suggested. "I can finish up stuff in the kitchen."

"Thank you, Buzz," said Raydor. She smiled at Buzz, Morales, Flynn, and Hobbs in turn before sitting on the couch nearest the tree and promptly being gleefully attacked by her ecstatic children.

The last thing out of the red bag was a plain cardboard box. Tao picked it up, explained to Ricky that it was part of dinner, not another present, and began heading to the kitchen with it.

"Let me help you with that, Mike!" said Provenza, hurrying to catch up.

"You're volunteering to help?" Tao asked confusedly. "Who are you and what have you done with Provenza?"

"I'm hungry, Tao, so yes, I'm volunteering to help speed things along," Provenza quipped. "If it makes you feel better, you can tell yourself that I was struck with Christmas cheer." As he passed Hobbs, he grabbed her arm and pulled her along.

"I've got things covered in here, guys, if you want to go watch – " Buzz began.

"We'll finish things up, Buzz," said Provenza. "Ricky's probably going to want your help with some doodad or another, anyway."

"Well, okay, but – "

"Bye, Buzz," said Provenza pointedly.

"Bah humbug to you too," said Buzz lowly as he exited the kitchen.

"Alright, what's the deal, Hobbs?" Provenza asked, gesturing for Tao to get to work with the ham.

Tao rolled his eyes before taking the ham out of the box. "I really don't need any help, Provenza, so you can go back to lounging on the couch and take Andrea with you. Julio and I already have this thing ready to go. Just needs to heat up a bit." He opened the oven and set the ham in before looking at his teammate expectantly.

"Didn't you hear me, Mike?" said Provenza. "Hobbs has something to tell us."

Tao turned to look at Hobbs with furrowed brows. "What could you have to tell just me and Provenza?"

Hobbs sighed heavily before stepping closer to the two men. "Well, you know that Jack made it his three days and went to dinner with Sharon and the kids."

"Yeah, and, as discussed, none of us have asked Sharon any questions," said Provenza. "Get on with it!"

"Hold on, before I continue, I think I should explain myself a little," said Hobbs.

"Ye gods," Provenza muttered, hanging his head.

"Come on, Andrea, spit it out," Tao encouraged.

"Look, I'm telling you two about this because I think someone besides me needs to be aware of what's happened," said Hobbs.

"So why not tell all of us?" Tao asked.

"Julio's got a temper, and we've all seen the way Andy's been looking at Sharon," said Hobbs.

"Whoah!" Provenza interjected. "Whoah, whoah, whoah. Stop. What the hell do you mean by that?"

"Are you serious?" Hobbs asked incredulously. "You mean to tell me that you live with the guy and you haven't figured it out?"

"Andrea, dinner with Jack?" Tao prompted.

Hobbs shook her head as if to clear it. "Jack showed up on time and was incredibly charming. He did everything Sharon wanted. She wanted to believe so badly that he could change that she let her guard down," said Hobbs. She made pointed eye contact with each of the men. "What I'm about to tell you needs to be disclosed delicately. We cannot risk setting off Julio or Andy. If you tell them, you need to make sure they don't do anything stupid."

"Cross my heart and hope to die," said Provenza, waving his hand. "Come on, let's go."

"Sharon let Jack spend the night with her," said Hobbs.

"Whoah! What?" Tao burst.

"Shhh!" Hobbs desperately insisted.

"Sorry," Tao whispered, covering his mouth with his hand.

"She feels terrible and she's really embarrassed by it," said Hobbs.

"That can't be everything," said Provenza. "If that was all, I doubt Sharon would have told anyone that she'd spent the night with her estranged husband."

"Yeah, well, it's not all," Hobbs sighed. "After Sharon fell asleep, Jack copied her records of what debts she'd paid, then he left. She's pretty sure that's what he was after the whole time."

"That can't be everything, either," Provenza reasoned.

"What do you mean that can't be everything?" asked Tao, hand on top of his head. "I feel like beating the guy, and I'm nowhere near as short as Julio!"

"That's something Sharon would bottle up and not bother any of us with," said Provenza. "If something's upset her so deeply that she poured her soul out to Hobbs and insisted we not be told, it's got to have something to do with the kids!"

Hobbs tapped her nose, silencing the argument on Tao's lips. "There was milk in the fridge that neither Sharon nor I bought, and it was heavily spiked with vodka. You know what Sharon makes sure the kids drink every morning?"

"Son of a bitch," said Tao lowly.

Provenza nodded. "There we go, that's the crux of the problem. So Jack thought he'd get Sharon to poison the kids, get them taken away from her, and then swoop in to save the day?"

"I don't know about save the day," said Hobbs, "but he definitely knew it'd open doors for him."

"So what is it you want us to do?" Provenza asked.

"Sharon said she made it abundantly clear to Jack that he's not to come anywhere near the kids unless he can prove that he has really and truly cleaned himself up, which I think we all know he probably won't ever do," said Hobbs. "When the government is back to its usual hours after the holidays, I intend on finding out where Jack's working, if anywhere. In the mean time, I just want help making sure Jack doesn't come around here and that he doesn't do any damage to Sharon, Emily, or Ricky."

"That can be arranged," said Provenza.

"Please also keep in mind that if anything happens to Jack, Sharon will be at the top of the suspect list," said Hobbs with an insincere smile, "and we all know what that means for someone in our situation."

Provenza swiveled to face Tao. "So how do you suggest we handle our roommates?"

"If Jack's trying to hurt the kids, we can't not tell them," said Tao, staring blankly ahead as he thought through options. "On the other hand, I can't really think of a scenario that involves Julio finding out without absolutely losing it."

"It'd be fun to see who got to Jack faster, though – Julio or Flynn," said Provenza with a lopsided grin.

"Oh, so you agree that Andy's a concern?" said Hobbs archly. "Could it be because – "

"I am neither confirming nor denying what you implied earlier," said Provenza diplomatically. "I'm simply saying that I have better control over my temper than Flynn does, and I can see him making a nice little noose for himself if he's allowed the chance here."

"Mmmhmm," said Hobbs knowingly. "I'll leave Julio and Andy to you two, but one way or another, Sharon can never know that we talked about this."

"Talked about what?" said Tao with a smart smile.

Hobbs smirked before leaving the kitchen.

"But seriously, what are we going to do?" Tao asked Provenza. "Julio gets wind of this, and Jack's going to be a bloody lump on the sidewalk."

"Well, Tao, I think the first thing we should do is take a walk," said Provenza, rising from his chair.

"You wouldn't be thinking of finding a bar nearby that's open, would you?" asked Tao.

"Now that you mention it, I think I could go for a round or two," Provenza answered.

"Of drinking or boxing?" said Tao with a boyish grin.

"One may lead to the other," Provenza admitted. "Come on, we need to move fast, while everyone's still distracted with the kids."

Author's Note

Oh, the joys of the manipulative and narcissistic creatures that are addicts. On the other hand, a taste of Shandy! I hope that kind of eased the pain of Jack's assholery.

Review! Tell me what you think, ask questions, whatever the heck strikes your fancy to do.