Title - Redox

Author - Kourion

Summary: 'I can recall, even after Red John had been killed - my nights of shrill anxiety. My mouth dried out in a panic attack while I rushed to our son's room to check on him; I had to hold him. Had to put my hand on his tiny chest, had to desperately feel around for his heartbeat.' Future family fic/ Jane POV

A/N: This is just a little snap shot piece of a day in the life of Jane/ Lisbon - married, with a little boy.

And I'm not a mother, nor am I used to small children; nor was I typical of most small children when I was small. It's hard to capture their voice, authentically, without a model. But it's also tricky to imagine Jane and Lisbon's son sharing a blend of their traits while also coming across as a distinct person in his own right. So I've fashioned little Dylan in a way that I hope will strike most of you guys as... a mini Patrick Jane (if he had come from a happier home as a kid). Because, really, anyone as whimsical a personality as Jane... would probably have a somewhat kooky child, too, right? :)

Oh, just for the record - this will most likely be a stand-alone ficlet. (I have too many WIP's going on at the moment to add to the pile!) But if you guys like it, I might just be tempted enough to create other family fics in the future. :) (So it's important that you let me know, jaja? ;) - note the winking emoticon 'suggesting' you review. ^_^ No pressure, but reviews make me =D!)

Regardless, the idea of Jane becoming a father again really appeals to me. The obvious reason, first and foremost, being that he deserves to be happy, and whole; also because he's so freaking awesome with children. He's such a big kid himself most of the time that I delight in imagining him as a father once more. He also seems to let his guard down around kids, and I think that would be very healing for him. To just...be.

Warnings: this fic contains the very briefest allusions to sexual assault and child abuse (you'll probably have to squint to catch the latter, though). Nothing graphic at all; still, if any discussion of those topics could make you uncomfortable, you might want to skip this story.
It also deals with complex PTSD.

For those who haven't read my first ever Mentalist fic (yes, still a WIP. *sighs*) Redress - this story follows up from the events that were outlined in that fic first.

Boy, n.: a noise with dirt on it. ~Not Your Average Dictionary

I hear the sound of breaking glass, and cringe.

Wait for it...wait for it...


What do you know?

No crying.


Our son has really poor vision.

He's almost legally blind - and so he wears a pair of toddler prescription glasses.

In neon orange. His favourite colour.

Not blue or red, or green, like most little boys. But neon orange.

Buying clothes and sheets and pillow cases in the exact hue ("daddy, that's the wrong colour!") was a nightmare, believe me, though it had nothing on finding electric orange glass frames. That had been almost an impossibility.

But persevere we did, knowing our kid was equal parts persnickety (sadly, I think that comes from me. My wife calls it "fussy," but I call it "cultured"), all mixed up with an equal portion of pure, bull-headed stubbornness that can almost take your breath away (pure Teresa, that. There is no way I'm owning up to all the flaws or character traits that makes life more difficult).

At any rate, we knew long before we started out that we'd have to make the prospect of wearing glasses attractive if we ever wanted to see the dang things on his little bull-headed skull. If we wanted to see them on his head...without duct tape, that is (which just so happens to be my Plan B scenario. Especially since most days we keep finding Dylan's glasses stashed on the kitchen table, or hiding behind the television set. Or, sometimes, stashed in his Play mobile pirate ship.)

Wandering into the kitchen, I bite back a laugh when I find our kid perched up high on the fridge, hunched over not unlike some wild child, some feral little creature. Some boy raised by wolves, or something. As he's not simply sitting atop the fridge like a sprite, with those lean legs of his...far too thin to have come from my genetic lineage.


He's decked out in his underwear. His underwear, and nothing else, save for a fine dusting of cookie crumbs.

He's not even wearing socks...

"Dylan Spencer Jane!," Uhhhh ohhh, someone's in troubllllle, "What did I tell you about climbing up on the counters?"

I tend to leave the reprimanding up to Teresa. But not to be lazy.

The kid just doesn't listen to me. I say something very simple, something very clear and extremely easy to understand, and he blinks up at me as if I'm speaking in Swahili. For example, let's say I tell Dylan in clear, crisp tones, "don't slide down the banisters, Dill weed!" - what would the little punk do? He would nod in his "okay Daddy!" way, but in the next breath he'd be polishing the banisters, applying crisco to his underside, and sliding down the damn thing. Just to spite me, I think.
So even though Teresa tends to reprimand our tyke a teensy bit more than I do, she typically gets somewhere. Whereas I rarely get anywhere. At least on the discipline front.

Although, honestly, she's not getting very far with our rug rat today, either, because when she asks him a second time - and more sternly now, "why are you ignoring daddy and me, Dylan?", all she gets is a cheeky smile! An almost...smirky little "Jane-grin", as she calls it. And then, when she proceeds to ask "do you want a time out today, buster? Because you are pushing your luck, kid!", our child stops his smiling, but replaces his placid smirk with some decibel-rich holler.

It's a strange noise that I can only assume is supposed to be that of an animal.

Not that it really sounds like any animal I have ever heard before...

Thankfully, the squeaky noises stop almost as quickly as they had started. A cursory glance at my son tells me the reason why, too - even from the doorway: the tyke is nibbling on something that is most definitely not supper.

Which isn't that surprising. This kid is always hungry, and to deprive him of his snacks would be almost cruel given his ultra-fast metabolism. It would be akin to forcing Rigsby to fast for an extended period of time.

"He has the body build of James at that age," Teresa always tells me, and it's true. Her brothers were skinny, and our little boy is just as angular, if not more so. Almost... lanky (in every way save for his face, which is round and full, and deceptively sweet.) His face, in fact, is perhaps the only place where anyone can spot a bit of baby fat. And between my wife's petite build, and her familial tendency towards thinness, our kid is starting to resemble a string bean.

And if he looks like this as a three year old, he's going to be a walking stick by kindergarten!

Hence, our tendency to indulge his fondness for treats. He obviously needs the calories, but that's not really the issue here. The issue is that Dylan has been breaking every. single. rule. we've tried to lay down in the last two months. And it's not like there were ever that many to begin with, either, so his typical retort that "he forgot!"?

Well, I'm just not buying it...

What's more...the rules were put into place for his basic protection. Not to limit his fun. And they were bare-bones basic. Seriously. Just some classic essentials, such as: don't climb up on the counters. Don't operate the dishwasher without mommy or me (the last time he did, he used regular liquid hand soap, and I when I finally caught up with him in the kitchen, I was attacked by bubbles!). Don't jump from any height higher than 3 feet, which isn't that much, but small bodies falling from high heights = bad, bad, bad.

You know...common sense things that would, in essence, keep our baby howler monkey from breaking bones... or simply doing himself in before his fourth birthday. It's not like we are mean people...

It's strange, too: ever since our kid turned three he's morphed (almost overnight) into Calvin from those Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strips. With a wide, pleasant smile and cheery nature, sure - but an undeniable rascal all the same.

"Like father, like son," Teresa is always quick to point out, with a smile just a little too hyper-happy for my liking. So, I just keep telling her right back, "I can't wait until we have a daughter! Justice will be served!"

Which usually earns me a smack, as if I've said something wrong. Justice will be served, if we could create a little raven haired girl with the sullen sourness that I know my Liss would have displayed as a young child!

And it's not as if we both don't want another child. We do.

But crazy toddler + stressed mommy sadly does not lead to much carefree baby-making time with daddy. Usually Teresa just wants to crawl into her sweats and watch The Colbert Report when she gets in from work (while Dylan lays on her lap like a lost puppy). She hasn't even had much of an appetite lately, which is what's bothering me the most, lately... Especially since she's been going through more painkillers than normal, and has been getting sick after meals again... The last thing she needs is for that damnable bleeding ulcer to have come back - the last one left her anemic - and the fact that she seems so stressed is making me feel like a piss poor husband. Or maybe she's just worrying about the fact that we haven't gotten pregnant again? Could that be it? Would that cause her so much...?

"Hi Daddy!," Dylan chirrups, distracting me from my unsettling thoughts.

I take this opportunity to inquire as to what happened to his clothing. We don't live in an Indian jungle, and this isn't a Rudyard Kipling story book.

"What happened to your coveralls, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?"

I seem to recall our kid wearing something with an Osh Kosh B'gosh logo on it before he went down for his nap, not even an hour before. Now he's covered in crumbs, along with something that looks suspiciously like chocolate syrup (do we even have chocolate syrup?) and marker stains.

Effectively, he's drawn a face on his belly. He's done this before. Draws a wide, smiling face and then swallows a bunch of air, and tries to make the face move by...

"Look how high I climbed this time, Daddy!," interrupts the little voice. Rousing once more, I realize he's totally ignored my initial question, too.

And just when we were getting used to our pliant baby doll who never caused a fuss. Beware the easy babies, people! Just when you let your guard down they strike...

"I'm the best climber monkey, aren't I, Daddy? I could'a gone higher, but this roof is too low!"

Ahhh. The old monkey routine. Rules for DYLAN don't work on monkeys, apparently. Silly mommy. She should have been more specific.

"You are definitely some sort of monkey, Dill weed," I state slowly, while I eye my wife. She has a lot of patience with Dylan - infinitely more than she has with me, which really tells you something. But she's also just come home from work, and the last thing she needs is a grubby child disregarding the rules and breaking pottery just because we've managed to create a little Houdini of an imp. A little imp who also happens to love reenacting the creatures he sees on Animal Planet, as the case here would be.

I could almost feel guilty, but I don't. Not on that front. Animal Planet is a great station.

Our son just has good taste.

Dylan starts to climb down now, so I tell him firmly, "No. Stay put, buddy. Some silly monkey broke a cookie jar and got bits of sharp glass pieces all over the place."
This revelation causes the kid to still his movements. All save for the basic movement needed to keep nibbling away on his treats. His small cheeks move up and down - puffy with oatmeal raisin confectionery that was oh-so! obviously pilfered.

My guess?

He tried to carry the heavy jar back down with him, to sneak into his room for later. But between the weight of the jar, and his somewhat poor climbing ability (I mean, he can't help the fact that he's short! I'm not disparaging the lad)...well. Yeah. Those two realities didn't exactly mix too well, and...viola.

You have broken glass and scattered baked goods everywhere.

It's actually another rule that he's been transgressing lately; this tendency to swipe food.

Recently we've been finding pieces of chocolate and little mounds of shortbread underneath his bed, or inside his pillow case. And it's embarrassing, if you want to know the truth. I mean, a stranger would think we were starving our kid. Especially given his stick-like build.

Never mind the fact that the behaviour strikes us both as just a little too odd to write off as "charmingly eccentric." A little too compulsive. I mean, I've watched Hoarders. I know how these type of problems start. They start 'innocently', what with the hiding of chocolate biscuits under your pillow as a toddler. But before long, that unchecked hoarding of gingerbread can very easily lead to the stashing of domesticated fancy rats in the basement. I've seen that creepy movie with Crispin Glover. I'm on the up and up. I know how these things work.

Anyway, it just seems atypical across the board - Dylan's hoarding of foodstuffs, I mean. And since I cannot recall doing anything even remotely similar as a little kid, I can't even blame my son's antics on some wacky strand of Jane-DNA and call it a day.

Besides, even if I had stolen food as a little boy, I would have had a logical reason.

Dylan doesn't.

Pushing faint concerns out of my mind, I approach Teresa cautiously - aware of the glass all over the floor. I sidestep around the broken cookie jar, and assist her in picking up the largest portions of the broken pottery.

"Too bad, so sad," I quip, trying to lighten the mood. She's been...off lately, and if I can make her smile, even a little bit, well...

"I always liked that piggy-pig-pig jar, honey. Mr. Mookey? Wasn't that his name? Yeeeah. He was swell - and he always had this jaunty little smile for me, too, which was decent of him. Even IF Tommy was trying to get his digs in by purchasing a pig jar, and all. We all know how your brothers think I'm a swine."

"Oh they do not, Patrick! Stop making up crap. My brothers think you are the coolest thing around since... Rice-a-roni," Teresa grumbles, not even cracking a grin.

Although the fact that she kept her three brothers alive on Rice-a-roni as kids, and little else, is probably something too bleak to prompt a smile. I mean, that's certainly nothing to joke about, right?

It's only a step up from mac and cheese...and not by much...

I try not to shudder.

"Oh stop wallowing, Mr. Jane." My love rolls her eyes then, for extra Lisbon-impact. "They like you even more than they like me, ya kook!"

It's then - right in the middle of her gesticulating - that I catch a clear wisp of rushing red that's now curling around the palm of her hand. On impulse, my arm reaches out for her elbow and draws it into a cradled sling position, protectively.

"Let me see it, Tree!"

"Oh for heaven's sake, Patrick. It's just a scratch," she grouses. And, I mean - she does sound fine. She's not responding - in any way - as if she's in pain. But I'm not appeased, and not convinced - that this means much of anything, truthfully.

Sure - a shallow glass cut isn't a big deal for my tough-as-nails wife - not when she routinely takes down male suspects who typically have more than 100 lbs on her slight build. Now that's got to hurt. And I've seen the bruises at random times; usually when she's undressing before bed, now that she has finally gotten over her previous inhibitions about changing in front of me. In fact, it is one of her tells that she been hurt. Because when she has sudden reservations about letting me see her?

Well, that's when I know she's hiding an injury...

At first, when we were newly married, that is - the tell would be more in the way that her face would screw up if I touched the wrong part of her skin in the dark. Nothing sexual at first, I mean, since she still had a lot of fear to get over in that department (as did I, in part). But even a light touch makes certain bruises hurt, I've come to learn. But sometimes when I reached for her so that I could simply hold her, and nothing more (because that's the way the two of us slept best then, and sleep best, now), she'd occasionally gasp.

And back then, for a few months there... I honestly thought that I had startled her. So I kept backing off, confused.

Very quickly, however, I put 2 + 2 together. Because I always gave her lots of time to sense me, and lots of space to adjust to me - or to pull back, on bad nights, when she was feeling more sensitized. Less confident, for whatever reason.

I always moved slowly. I let her know well in advance when I wanted to keep her close to me, and only after we had worked through the bulk of the horror of what had happened to her, did we even attempt that much. And although Teresa says she isn't naturally "huggy," I think just that's her longstanding default excuse.
She's actually as open and receptive to hugs and cuddling and being physically close to me as I am with her. The difference, maybe, was that I felt much more comfortable with hugs and cuddling and being physically close to her... a lot sooner, perhaps.

It took her a little longer to warm up to the idea; although now that she has...the change is remarkable: She'll share sips of the same beverage with me. No more of that possessive "get your own!" stuff, which is a welcome change. Or she'll distractedly let her fingers run through my hair while we're watching television. And sometimes, I don't even think she's consciously aware that she's doing it...

Amusingly enough, she'll be the first one to actually protest and pull me to her if she's cold now... especially if we are watching a movie. And again, it's not even sexualized half the time... even now, as a married couple. Most of the time our embraces feel so purely affectionate and gentle, that we can almost get lost in our own drowsy sort of comfort... just wrapped up in one another like that, totally at ease. In fact, it feels so natural to me that I almost can't imagine a time when her limbs would stiffen up in uncomfortable hyperawareness. To think that there was such a time when that was the case...seems almost foreign.

For many years she had been cut off from letting anyone comfort her physically, whereas my issue was almost the complete reverse: I could toss out hugs, pecks, hand holds, even deeper and fuller kisses... the whole 9 yards with the touchy-feely sort of stuff. And with less than zero anxiety.

But I had considerably more trouble letting someone comfort me emotionally. That's what caused me to bristle.

We were sort of yin and yang that way.

All the same, I knew that she wasn't scared of me. And my touches were never anything more than the lightest caresses, anyway. Even so, yellow-green bruising can go down deep - sometimes to the bone - and it pains. But that's not the point. The point is...I don't want to ever see her hurt, or bleed. Not ever. And while I know that this wish reflects a certain impossibility, especially for a woman - doubly so for a woman in law enforcement... it will still remain my objective. To limit the pains she experiences.

And I've never put much stock in rushing people, in pressuring people. Not on the important stuff. Not when deeper emotions are involved. Never when fear is involved. I'm not going to punish my little boy for being scared of the dark, for example, and I'm not going to pressure my wife for a fear that is just as strong.
Fear is...fear. It's not always logical, but that's part of how it grabs ahold of you, and ensnares. If fear was always rooted in something logical, logic alone could defeat it. And I know first hand just how untrue that idea is...

I can recall, even after Red John had been killed - my nights of shrill anxiety. My mouth dried out in a panic attack while I rushed to our son's bedroom to check on him; I had to hold him. Had to put my hand on his tiny chest. Had to desperately feel around for his heartbeat. And Teresa would sometimes come in right after me, hot on my heels, because I more often than not would have woken her up in the midst of my panicking.

She'd come up behind me, gently dislodge our son - and put him back to bed before he could rouse and wonder why Daddy was losing. it.

"Patrick! It's okay baby. He's fine, Patrick. Dylan's fine."

Little clucking noises, at the back of her throat then - soothing and full, and they'd wash over me, and she'd stroke my forehead as if I were sick, stroke the nape of my neck until my breath came back to me and the panic would ebb away. Rub her hands up and down my arms until I could stop shaking, until all the trembling in my limbs stopped entirely.

And sometimes that would take a good 10 minutes or more - before all that shaking would stop - and sometimes I would have to turn on the night light to see our son even better. Because a sleeping child - when they are absolutely still and at peace - can look a hell of a lot like a dead child, in the dark.

Some nights Teresa wakes me up first - her eyes full of worry as she relays my episodic night terror and how I had been screaming like a banshee, even though I never seem to have memories of the nightmares themselves.

Or worse, if that's possible...when the OCD that Sophie had diagnosed years previously - came roaring back to life. The OCD that for so long lay dormant just under the surface, rising only enough to mark me as a peculiar and fussy man, but not so obvious as to condemn me as a disordered fruitcake.

But Teresa got to witness that, too. In fantastic This is Your Life! technicolour. I even think for awhile there...she thought she had married a bona fide lunatic. It got to the point where I was ordering the dishes by colour because some little non-voice - some little itch that almost controlled my hands, my feet, my heartbeat if I disobeyed - would only be calmed and assured if I ordered our dishes in piles of light blue, dark green, light green, white, dark blue.

And just that precise order, nothing else - or else the little non-voice itch would whisper to me, "you broke the pattern. Now Teresa might be shot." Shot or stabbed. But not if I did everything properly. If I did everything properly, and kept the order correct, then maybe Teresa would be fine. And maybe Dylan wouldn't choke on his cereal.

A month after it stated getting bad, Teresa made me see a doctor. Deep down, I was relieved. I didn't want to admit to being so...tired. But I was.

And I think Teresa knew that, too.

"It has to do with eyes - seeing and knowing!", I told my new doctor - frustrated with logic and nonlogic vying for my attention all at once. Especially since the non-logic seemed to be creating all the fear, and seemed to be... winning.

"It has to do with keeping them safe, the colours," I'd insist, and it did.

Here's how it works: my eyes, light blue, first needed to see as much as possible and never stop looking for danger, and therefore were always on the outside, in case something bad was coming. I'd be between the danger and my family this time. Then Teresa's - dark green, protected by mine, but also protecting our son. Then Dylan's - green, but lighter - he was our baby - protected first by me and then by Teresa - right in the center, right in the center - away from the dangerous things as much as possible. And then white for safety, like a bandage - pure and clean, and then dark blue for me, again. For "different angles" - for seeing all the possible dangers from different perspectives. For not being stupid again. For not getting trapped again.

I knew it sounded insane.

I also knew I needed help. Because I was so tired.

"You know what magical thinking is, Patrick. You KNOW what this is. It's a disorder, triggered by trauma. You know that it doesn't really matter if you put all the white plates together, or all the blue or green plates on different shelves. Their order is not going to lead to Teresa getting shot at work, or Dylan getting hurt at home, or choking, or whatever other horrible scenarios your mind will throw at you."

I KNEW that, but I didn't feel it in my heart. I wasn't absolutely certain that I could afford to give up the rituals.

The checking was my atonement.

So I couldn't stop.

I was also checking the locks like a crazy person.

I'd flick them in, out, in, out - just to hear them make that SHLOCK! sound as the bolt pounded against the interior metal. Of course, pretty soon, I'd forget where I was in the counting, and then I would worry that maybe I had opened up the door on that last flip.

Maybe maybe maybe maybe.

What if you opened the entryway right up to everything horrible and cunning, smart guy? OPEN SESAME! to all the monsters, Patrick? What if one comes into our home while you are preparing Dylan's snack, and winds their way up to his bedroom like a snake, and hurts him? Wraps themselves around his body and hurts him in a way that can never be undone? A way worse than death?

So for awhile there, I had a bit of a problem with checking, too. 'Amusingly' enough, Teresa didn't even get to see the worst of that particular compulsion for the longest time - almost 18 months after the ritual had begun, for me - since I would force myself to hold off on the routine until I could hear her get far enough away outside from the door to be pretty sure that...she wouldn't catch on to what I was doing.

I knew had an anxiety disorder, ok. Fine. I'll admit to that. But I wasn't in the same league as those crackerjack loonies who wear the tinfoil hats; I knew how it looked. I knew I had to hide it from her as much as possible...

One day, though, she had run back home - having forgotten a parcel - and so she came in during the midst of my routine. That had been a little embarrassing, even if she had handled it well. Oh...she had handled it fabulously. Like a trooper.

But I was still mortified. I couldn't even maintain eye contact for more than a couple nanoseconds at a time...

And the look on her face?

Absolutely heartbroken - which I couldn't really understand, considering everything we had lived through together. Everything we had survived, not just as a couple, but as best friends.

But then the world flipped upside down - and Teresa grabbed me, even though I was rigid with resistance and a deep abiding shame. She grabbed me, and cried, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Patrick. I didn't know it was this bad. I honestly didn't know how much you were struggling. I'm so sorry."

I'm so sorry.

Over and over again.

Sometimes I would even have to touch his lips with my fingertips to feel that they were warm. And Teresa always knew better than to stop me from checking. She knew it was a fear that could never be reasoned with. That the panic that prompted the checking in the first place was too full and consuming to be ignored, so she'd let me check, but she'd always stay close by, talking me through the attack. "We're both here Patrick, with you. It's okay. We're both here with you, right here."

And then one night, fatigue and - what the doctors said was PTSD, despite my denial - all tumbled together. And the words of Teresa, the words of my Lisbon, became the words of Angela. Her voice, in my head.

"We're both with you, right here," and the thrum of my little boy's heartbeat against my hand, not unlike a glorious electric fan - that, with THOSE words, and the bell laughter of Charley, not really so different from the bell laughter of Dylan...had all collided together into such a tangeled web that my breath had stopped coming in fast, racing puffs. Had stopped coming at all, really. And only when Liss had managed to bring me back from the attack (she calls it an "episode," which I don't like at all - makes me sound like a lunatic, that) did I feel the excessive need to breathe, and worse - so much worse - to cry.

To fully cry, like I had never done before. Not at the funeral, not in the hospital, and never in front of Lisbon. Teresa. Certainly never in front of Dylan.

Maybe it wasn't even me doing the crying. Maybe it was two bloody souls crying through me, instead. No matter the case, I woke up Dylan with the sound - only two years old at the time, poor boy. He woke up with that groggy, messy appearance that little children are known for...before his eyes turned owlish and he whispered in shock, "Why's daddy crying, mommy? Daddy...why are you crying?"

And all I could think was: I don't deserve you. I don't deserve either of you. Why do I have you when I got the others killed?

And all I could think was: maybe my little Charlotte had been crying and crying and screaming for me that night, and I had never come to see what was wrong.

And then her heart had stopped.

I pick Teresa up by the waist now, before she can protest, and am rewarded with her grumbling protests. (I not-so-secretly love her growly little voice when she's pretending to be annoyed by my protectiveness).

"Stop fussing," she breathes, only stopping the muttering noise when I press a soft kiss to her temple.

She smells like watermelon.

Before motherhood, she smelled like cinnamon, but now she smells like watermelon hair detangler. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

"I can clean this up later. It's my fault he scrambled up there anyway. Let's take care of your hand first, Teresa."

Oops. Bad call. Too loud. Way too loud.

"Mommy? Are you hurt, mom?," and Dylan's face is rapidly morphing from carefree and playful, to bug-eyed concerned. Because it's not as if the kid isn't empathic. He certainly is.

He's just as equally impulsive - which doubly sucks considering he's a little phobic of blood. A "little" in this case translates to the following: if he sees red liquid coming out of his body - or any one else's body - he gets dizzy. Really dizzy. He's even fainted in the past. So the last thing we need, now, is for him to see Mommy bleeding, and pass out. Up from his perch on the fridge, there. A fall from the top of the refrigerator would not be a fun injury to have to explain to a pediatrician.

"Mom... mommy?"

"I'm fine, sweetie," Teresa fibs, eyes meeting mine quickly, her head shaking back and forth. Play along. Like I would do anything other than play along in this situation.

But she doesn't want to take any chances. The kid's reaction is beyond extreme.

"I just hurt my wrist on the counter, little man," she adds, while she holds her hand under cold, flowing tap water. "By the way, imp - why aren't you wearing your glasses?"

'"Why aren't you wearing your glasses?"?' Oh HONEY, it's so obvious. He's a monkey! Monkey's don't wear glasses. Or Osh Kosh B'gosh coveralls, as we all can clearly see...

In fact, we should probably just count our lucky stars that the little kook didn't clamour up the appliance completely naked. The last time I checked - monkeys didn't wear normally wear underpants, either.

I finish sweeping up the broken glass and bits of crumbled cookie bits while Liss retreats to the bathroom to bandage her poor hand. Our son lazily finishes off cookie #2. Just as he goes to start on his third, I rise, and gently pry it away from his small and sticky fingers.

"Daddy - that's my cookie!," Dylan huffs, annoyed, while I wrap up the cookie in saran wrap, and deposit it into the cupboard.

No wavering. No spoiling. He already manipulates us enough as it is...

"No, Dill weed," I start, patiently, "that certainly was not your cookie. That never was your cookie."

"But...but!," he stammers, his eyes still half closed in perpetual squint (why doesn't the kid wear his glasses?), before: "I climbed up here and got 'em! All by myself. So they're mine!"

I bite back a groan.

"So if you walked into a bank...," I start slowly, needing to clarify something important for my own edification, "and broke into a vault, and then took out all the money and walked away, and if the police - like mommy, by the way - didn't catch you...then all that money would be yours too, huh? Just because you took it?"

"Mmmm hmmm! Because finder's keepers, daddy! Remember? Finder's keepers!"

I'm somewhat overwhelmed by our son's under-developed sense of morality right now, I gotta say, so I turn to look at the rascal, and give him a pointed oh, you know better! expression. His angelic smile belies the fact that he knows exactly how he's winding me up, and I stop - and almost laugh at the situation.

Appearances can be deceiving - what with his golden locks that almost reach his shoulders, and glowing eyes the colour of emeralds, just like his mom. In his near nakedness, and given his slight build, our child looks one heck of a lot like the sketches we've pored over together in one of his favourite stories...The Little Prince ("Le Petit Prince, daddy! Read it in French, not English, dad!") from Asteroid B-612.

Or else, a child transported right out of the Renaissance era; a boy who could almost be a girl - what with his long hair, now in a page cut, and his rosebud lips. He's almost pretty (not surprising, given his mother)... But kids can be mean on the school yard, or so I've heard.

"Daddy," Dylan whispers, suddenly all hush-hush secretive. "You don't have to tell mommy. You can just give me the cookie and I'll go to bed very quie-"

He doesn't get to finish his sentence, because right then - as luck would have it, hey whaddya know? - Mommy herself is back. Complete with a blue plastic bucket and a bottle of mountain fresh pine sol.

Dylan smiles up at me, heightening my inappropriate and radically unfair sense of having sided with the enemy. Of course it's wrong to think of your own pre-school aged son as being in the enemy camp, but he keeps getting me into trouble with the only actual authority in my life right now... and there's only so much a man can take!

His smile prompts my smile, however - especially when he reaches over to me, stickiness and all, and clenches his fingers in his c'mere, you - yeah you! wave that REALLY translates to mean: "piggy back ride, dad?"

I nod, and reach for his hand to steady him while he scrambles up onto my back. As I move nearer to bend down, I notice that his little belly is quivering an awful lot. In fact, I can count the ribs pressed up against his skin, expanding and contracting upon every breath.

Jeesh this kid is skinny! Maybe you should just let him have the cookie, rules be damned...

Filling up the bucket with warm water, Teresa now turns to look at "her boys", prompting Dylan's tattle tailing of: "Daddy took my cookie, mom. The peanut butter one that I found. And he knows I like the peanut butter ones best, mommy. And he just took it! And he put it in the cupboard, right there. No...right there! No - higher. Yeah. There. Can I have it back, mommy? Please? And thank you."

He points his finger...trying to highlight the precise location where his treat now lays, alone and sad and uneaten. I smirk. If the kid thinks we will give him everything he wants just because he adds a please and thank you BEFORE we've agreed to his requests, he's a little mistaken...

Additionally, Dylan has some mighty fine nerve. Considering he's ratting on me.

I mean, just whose back do you think you are catching a ride on, anyway, buster?

Teresa tries not to laugh, and shakes her head before meeting my eyes, amused. We share a knowing gaze, and I bite my lip, then stare at the tile to keep from laughing myself.

Disciplinarian, I'm not. Heck - every kid on this block knows I'm the treat junkie in the neighbourhood. They've seen our Halloween displays. They know. The fact that I have, in this scenario - atypically taken a treat away from a misbehaving little boy...in no way suggests that Teresa is about to reward this punk, just because I haven't.

Oh bud, if I think you should have a time out, mommy will most definitely think the exact same thing!

And like ambrosia and nectar to my ears, Teresa now adds: "You didn't find that cookie, Dylan! You broke daddy's rule, which just so happens to be my rule too, when you climbed up on top of the fridge and took what didn't belong to you. And that's my cookie, and daddy's cookie now - which we - not you - will split after dinner... since all the other cookies are now in the trash bin, or in your tummy, jitterbug."

"Nuh uh! I found it, mommy! I found it after I climbed up here!," and the kid is relentless, really - as he tries to reach out from his squatted position atop my spine to pat our yellow fridge, the colour so distinctively like that of a buttercup that I'm sure the old clunker must be from 1954.

"Keep pushing it, Dyl. You're lucky that we aren't saying no to the sitter tomorrow...because you've been misbehaving all week, and I don't think it's fair for Thea to have to-"

That does it.

Immediate repetance. It's a sight to behold.

"No mommy! I'm sorry! I will have my bath now, okay? Yup? Right now."

He's already trying to climb down from my back...

Meh. So much for peanut butter cookies.