"Look what I found on my way here."
Sarah had poked her head from the kitchen into the back breezeway when she heard a commotion building. It was a combination of kids' squeals and shoes bouncing off the door frame followed by the screen door banging shut and the family dog barking his fool head off as he jumped straight into the air and backwards, scrabbling his claws on the kitchen floor tiles to try to stay on his feet.
Sarah moved to make way for the circus that had entered the Bartowski household.
"Casey, I think you're the biggest kid of them all," she said, hands on hips as she smiled with more than a slight maternal air.
Casey paused, standing just inside the kitchen doorway, feet wide apart, the three Bartowski children hanging off of him and giggling. The twins, Chuck and John, were each holding on to a bulging forearm, and the little one, Lisa, clung to his neck, peeking over the big man's shoulder, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
The dog was still doing his best to join in the fun, yapping and jumping until Sarah silenced him with a sharp, "Flash! Sitz!"
She turned away to the counter. "Milk and cookies, guys?"
There were high-pitched yells of "Yeah!" and "You bet!" and Thanks, mom!" and the bass addition of "Chocolate chip?" as Sarah opened the fridge door to take out the milk.
"Hands! Wash! Now! Everybody!" she called out. "You too, Casey. I don't know where you've been."
Right on time, Chuck came through the front door, loosening his tie and calling out, "Sarah, honey, I'm home!"
Sarah ran to the front of the house and held out her arms to her husband, reveling in the excitement it still gave her to see him, even after ten years of marriage, three kids, a mortgage, a large extended family – including her permanent inter-agency partner/neighbor – and one very excitable dog.
"What did you do on your day off?" Chuck inquired, dipping his head to nibble on Sarah's neck.
"The kids are home and Casey is here. Stop that," Sarah said, not really wanting him to.
"Well, they're getting old enough to learn about sex by now, aren't they? And I'd be surprised if Casey hasn't dropped a bomb or two in his own inimitable fashion," Chuck observed. He raised his head, brown eyes hooded, and found Sarah's lips, almost causing her to lose her resolve.
The sound of Casey clearing his throat theatrically nearby did the trick.
"Cookie, not nookie," he said dryly and turned to go into the kitchen.
When Chuck and Sarah joined them, laughing quietly and looking into each other's eyes with an unspoken promise, the children and Casey were already seated around the table and Casey was showing them how to dunk their cookies into the milk by alternately dunking into each child's glass. This was apparently hilarious and they laughed and screeched, "Uncle Johnny! No! Get Lisa's!"
Chuck and Sarah sat down, poured themselves some milk and each bit into a cookie.
Casey, deciding it was time to be serious, took on a stern look and told the children, "Come on, now, we're at the table, don't forget your manners."
Little Lisa was having a hard time calming down, however, and Sarah and Chuck could guess why. Casey's free hand, not visible, was most likely tickling the unfortunate six-year-old, who was still squirming and laughing in her chair, milk running down her chin from the sopping cookie held in her mouth as she tried to defend herself from her godfather's attack.
Chuck, more curious than wanting to dampen their good spirits, casually mentioned, "Isn't today report card day?"
Casey stopped his tickling as the three children, looking suddenly sullen, chorused, "Yes, dad."
"Well, let's see them, then," Sarah said, holding out a hand.
The children scrambled off of their chairs and went into the breezeway where they had dumped their knapsacks to the floor from the great height of Mount UncleJohn and came back, each with a medium-sized manila envelope, handing them to Sarah before resuming their places at the table.
Sarah pulled the three reports out of their envelopes and arranged them in order of age, first young Chuck's, then young John's, then Lisa's. Opening them up one by one, she read them in turn and passed them on to her husband, who read them and passed them on to their friend and honorary family member.
The children waited with looks of dread on their faces, staring at the tabletop and stealing small bites of their cookies.
Finally, Sarah's face lit up in a brilliant smile that was reflected back to her by every face in the room.
"You've all done really well. John, an 'A' in Small Weapons! See what happens when you listen to Uncle Johnny? And Lisa, 'A+' both in Ciphers and Computer Hacking! I think you're taking after your father, who is brilliant, by the way."
Turning to her other son, who was the elder twin by three minutes, she said, "Chuck, I'm especially proud of you. An 'A' in Economics of World Domination! That's a tough course. You know, your Uncle Johnny had to take that one twice."
"Thanks for reminding me, Walker," the big man growled through a half grin, taking the opportunity to snag another cookie.
The paterfamilias puffed out his chest proudly, saying, "And all good marks in Hand-To-Hand Combat. You kids are just great! I think you deserve a movie and a pizza. What do you say, mother?"
"No olives!" yelled little Lisa, flinging her hands into the air and laughing as Flash began to bark and jump again at all the noise.
After the milk was put away and the remainder of the cookies placed into the cookie jar, the group of six filed out the front door. When they were on the porch, Casey reached down and scooped Lisa up into the air, settling her into the crook of his arm and smiling broadly when she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear.
"I did good, didn't I, Uncle Johnny?" she asked, fishing for his approval.
"You sure did, sweet pea," he whispered back, his hand cupping her ear. He continued whispering for another moment, and when they were all standing on the driveway about to get into the compact SUV waiting there, Lisa announced loudly, "Dad, Uncle Johnny says if I'm anything like mom, I'm going to do great in Infiltration and Inducement of Enemy Personnel."
When this declaration met with a surprised silence, the confused girl asked, "What's that, dad?" as Chuck shot Sarah a What-did-I-tell-you? glare.