Dedicated to Kathryn, without whom this story would never exist.
Disclaimer: I own nothing recognizable.
Consciousness comes to him slowly, unfolding itself in his reluctantly waking thoughts. Reality seeps through, swirling into place outside his stubbornly closed eyelids, banishing the last tendrils and remnants of his dreams from the cracks and corners of his mind. A rumbling groan builds in his throat as David Rossi throws in the towel and admits defeat. He opens his eyes.
Sunlight cheerfully streams in from the window, stretching out its reach across the whole room, painting the furniture and warming the bedroom. David gives himself a moment to blink back his senses, leisurely letting his thoughts float and settle into place, immensely enjoying the experience of waking up without a pressing matter weighing on him for once. He stretches under the covers of his bed, rolling onto his side and forlornly stretching out an arm across the regretfully empty expanse of pillows beside him. Before he can bully himself into leaving the warm cocoon of blankets in order to search for his wayward wife, soft footsteps pad against the floor outside the bedroom door, answering his half-formed questions.
Carolyn quietly peeks around the door, relaxing with a smile as she sees her husband watching her sleepily. She slips into the room, bare feet cushioned upon the plush carpet, and makes her way back over to the bed and the inviting pillows and occupant.
"Morning," she greets softly, climbing onto the bed and sliding up beside him. Willingly, David lets her cuddle against him, glad for the warmth and company. "It's not like you to sleep in," she teases. "Aren't you usually the one rushing off first thing with barely enough time for a coffee and a kiss?"
David scoffs, raising an eyebrow at her. "I have enough time for more than a kiss," he counters. "After all, I need more than a coffee to get me through the day. As for today, well, today's one of those rare days where it pays to travel so often for work." In demonstration, he sighs happily, purposely and pointedly making himself all the more comfortable next to his amused wife. " I knew there was a reason I worked late finishing up paperwork yesterday."
Carolyn laughs, leaning forward to prod him into a kiss. He complies easily, sneakily trying to draw it out longer and pulling her further into the bed. She swats him and pulls away, patting his cheek when he protests.
"If only we were all so lucky," she says wistfully before grinning, finding enjoyment in his frustrated grumbling. "Unfortunately, one of us, at least, has to go to work today. I won't be long. I just need to put in a few hours to put them off my tail – they're a bit unhappy with me taking so many personal days lately. I love our son, but I'll be glad to spend the day away from the house. Since you're home, I phoned the sitter and told her not to bother dropping by to watch him. If you have to run off and save some lives, you know where the number is." She takes the risk and pecks his cheek. "Will you manage?"
David puts a hand against his chest in mock offense, frowning at her mistrust. "You underestimate me," he laments. "I'm perfectly capable of looking after my son for the day, thank you. If the teenager down the street can handle it, so can I."
Carolyn wiggles her way off the bed, taking the chance to steal a look at the shiny watch on her wrist, her present from their last anniversary. "Anna has four younger siblings," she reminds David lightly, winking at him to prove she's still pulling his leg. "She's well versed in the art of wrangling small humans. You, however, have more experience watching serial killers than you do four-year-olds."
David sulks as he watches Carolyn trail around the room, scooping up a pair of heels from the walk-in closet and uncovering her handbag from the laundry-piled chair in the corner.
"I'm sure you'll be fine," she finally concedes, double-checking that she has everything she needs. "James will love having you all to himself for the day. He's missed you. If he does get to be a bit much, I can always stop by at lunch. Since you're so sure of yourself," she adds, seeing him snort in disbelief, "you won't have a problem with waking James up yourself. I warn you, he's far from a morning person. Wonder where he gets that from?"
David only gets a second to ponder the strange feeling of having walked into a trap before Carolyn disappears out the door, keys jingling in her hand as her footsteps fade away, heading for the stairs. A few moments later, the faint rumbling of a car engine signifies her departure.
Once silence envelopes the house yet again, broken only by the normal sighing and creaking of the structure, David lets himself sink back into the warmth of the bed. He so rarely gets to have a proper sleep in, even on weekends, so he chooses to cherish the few instances he can whenever possible. It isn't long before the phantoms of his discarded dreams start to rope him in again, thankfully pleasant in nature as he falls back asleep.
When he wakes up again, the sun's shining a little higher through the window, drawing shadows across the walls that hadn't been there when Carolyn had left. Feeling refreshingly well-rested, David rolls out of bed with a contented smile, angling his footsteps towards the ensuite. He runs through his normal routine at a laxer pace than usual, happily keeping his eyes averted from the small clock stationed on the counter, patterned with various stains of soap and smudges of Carolyn's make-up. Without looking, though, he already knows it's far later than he's usually up and about, around the time he's usually pacing the bullpen at work.
He finds some comfortable clothes in the walk-in closet, and he emerges within minutes fully dressed and ready to tackle the daunting task of waking his son.
At the end of the hall, David pushes open the door to his son's room carefully, peeking his head inside without a peep. Organized chaos meets his gaze, toys strewn about the room in designated piles, leading up to the small bed situated in the far left corner. The blue blankets are ruffled and scrunched up around the tiny form of David's son, sprawled with his limbs flung out. One of his arms dangles over the side of the bed, and his unruly brown hair puts on an impressive impression of being a rat's nest.
David cautiously ventures in, picking his steps around the various toys and books, casualties of his son's wandering attention. He nudges aside an ugly teddy bear with his foot once he reaches the bed, sinking down to his knees so his face is closer to level with his son's sleep-deformed one. The small bedside table holds a rocket-shaped alarm clock declaring the time to be 9 am, which is rather later than David anticipated.
"James," he says softly, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Time to wake up, buddy."
Getting no response from his softly snoring son, David gently brushes a thumb against his cheek and taps a skinny shoulder. James snuffles a little, face scrunching as whatever dreams were floating in his head drain away. A single brown eye peeks open, squinting against the light to focus on David's looming face, before snapping closed again with a groan. James mumbles something incomprehensible into his blankets, attempting to turn and bury his face in the pillow.
Amusement swells in David's chest as he watches the boy try to studiously ignore his presence. "Ah-ah," David says, pulling at the sheets. "It's time to get up now."
James visibly considers for a moment, eyes stubbornly scrunched up, before sighing in defeat. His eyes slide open once more to glare fuzzily at David as the boy reluctantly pushes himself up into a sitting position. A huge yawn cracks his jaw as he rubs the sleep from his eyes, looking adorably disheveled. "Daddy," he whines, doing a good impression of a zombie. "Wanna sleep."
Feeling in particularly good humor, David shrugs. "Alright," he says easily, casually stepping away from the bed. Smartly, James squints at him suspiciously, unsure of how to react to his father's seeming agreeability. "You can keep on sleeping all morning, and I guess I'll just have to go to the park with some other little boy. I'm sure Anna won't mind coming over to watch you while I go have fun, hmm? The only problem is finding a little boy who likes the swings as much as I do… You wouldn't know anybody like that, would you, buddy?"
David doesn't turn to watch his son as he starts to move towards the door, steps deliberately slow as he lets his boy's thoughts calibrate. It takes a moment longer than expected, but inevitably James' brain kicks into gear and he gives a horrified gasp.
"No!" he cries in distress, immediately scrambling off the bed. "Take me, Daddy! I like the swings! I'll get up! Don't call Anna."
Suddenly, David finds a pleading, doe-eyed four-year-old clinging to his leg, bottom lip stuck out in a pout. He smiles down at his son indulgently, relishing in the rare opportunity for such relaxed teasing. "Okay, okay," he laughs, carefully untangling son from leg. "We'll go after we get you dressed and grab some breakfast, alright? Sound good?"
James thinks the deal over for a second, eyes roaming around his room and straying towards his closet, inside which hangs all the clothes he seems to disdain wearing. It's a source of endless amusement and exasperation on David and Carolyn's parts respectively that their son seems to prefer his birthday suit to more modest options, resulting in a daily battle of trying to wrangle him into something decent. Finally, James finishes weighing up the pros and cons.
"Sounds good," he agrees firmly.
David shoos him off to get started, and James zooms around the room in record speed. Within seconds, he stands before his father once more, victoriously holding out a bundle of clothes. David nods in permission and gestures for James to dress himself, wanting to see if the promise of the park will be enough to entice the boy to don the hated garments.
As it happens, it is.
James hops and wiggles his way into a pair of jeans, wrestles with a tiny Star Wars shirt that David eventually has to step in and help him with, and slips on a pair of socks. David is a little more than dubious at the apparent match James has decided on with his socks, but his son seems delighted with the one green sock to match the one blue one, and David eventually decides that he should take whatever he can get and count it as a victory.
Seeing David's approval and beaming at it, James lets himself be invigorated by the thought of their plans for the day. Slyly, he clasps his hands behind his back and puts on his best puppy-dog look. David is instantly on alert. "I'm dressed now, Daddy," James offers. "We can go to the park now and play."
David raises an eyebrow. "Oh, we can, can we?" he teases. James bobs his head eagerly. "Hm, are you sure about that? I think you may be forgetting something."
James hesitates. "Uh," he says. "No?"
But it's with reluctant resignation that James follows David down the hall and towards breakfast, putting up little fight once he realizes how much his tummy starts to growl at the promise of food. Still, just to make a point, he refuses to hold his daddy's hand as they travel down the hall, and then further refuses David's help when it comes to descending the stairs.
It isn't the first time James has braved the stairs, and his son is more than capable, but David is still cautious. Despite James being big enough now to be able to do a lot of things, the unavoidable truth is that David's son has less than stellar balance. He's lucky to make it across flat ground without tripping, really, so the stairs are always a bit daunting. However, James faces them fearlessly, remembering himself enough to grab onto the handrail as he climbs down each step. David hovers nearby, just in case.
They reach the bottom without incident, and James is more than proud of himself. He beams up at his father, disappointment over the delay in their plans forgotten, and David smiles back.
James is happily lead away from the stairs and towards the spacious kitchen, David herding him towards the table while he himself heads for the fridge. As James climbs up into his booster seat and peers his head over the table, David makes quick work of putting together two glasses of orange juice and pulling out a colourful, cartoon-adorned bowl.
"What kind of cereal do you want, buddy?" David asks cheerfully, reaching for the cupboard below the sink. It's James's designated storage, where he keeps his favourite snacks and food items. There's also a battered toy truck shoved in the back, but David and Carolyn have both long ago stopped questioning these things.
James sinks into deep thought, face scrunching in concentration, and David lets him think it out, patiently waiting. "Rice Kissbies," James finally decides with determination, nodding his head just to add to his certainty.
"Rice Kissbies it is," David announces, pulling out the proper cereal box from the cupboard with unnecessary flourish. He dumps some cereal in the bowl, splashes some milk on top, and grabs a small spoon for small hands on his way to the table. He makes a second trip for the orange juice, plunking down the glasses and taking a seat beside his son.
Happily, the boy digs in to his breakfast, earlier reluctance forgotten as he crunches away. David amuses himself by flicking stray cereal bits at his messy-eater. When David runs out of ammunition, James frowns and pauses, spoon piled with Rice Krispies and dripping milk halfway out of the bowl.
"Daddy, where's Mommy?" he finally thinks to ask in bewilderment, head swinging around as if hoping to spot her hiding behind the doorway.
David nudges James' orange juice closer to the boy before answering. "At work," he says lightly. "Why, am I not good enough for you?" He frowns unhappily, sniffing in mock offense, placing a dramatic hand over his heart.
James giggles at his theatrics, but doesn't let the subject drop in favour of silliness. "Is Mommy working like you?" he asks, suddenly anxious, face falling. "Is she coming home?"
David sobers quickly. "Don't worry," he assures quietly. His hand floats up to stroke James' hair without his conscious consent. "Mommy's coming home, buddy."
Thankfully, this is enough to satisfy James, at least for a few moments. He continues shoveling cereal in his mouth and gulping orange juice until most of both is gone. Then he seems to realize something, spoon hovering over the last bits of Rice Krispies.
"Why doesn't Daddy eat?' he demands suddenly, eyes narrowed and accusing. David quirks an eyebrow instead of answering. Determined, James piles his spoon with the last dregs of cereal and jabs it in his father's direction. "Eat," he orders. There is no arguing with his tone. "Daddy needs to eat. Has to be strong to beat bad guys."
Unable to refute that logic, and also too amused to say no, David takes the spoon from James and pops the cereal in his mouth. James smiles in victory, then looks down at his empty bowl. His butt starts to wriggle restlessly in his chair, and David knows now is the time for a distraction.
"All done?" he asks, whisking away the dishes once James nods. He swills the cup out with water and briefly scrubs at the bowl, knowing he should hurry unless he wants James to find some way to amuse himself. "It's still a bit early to go the park, so what do you want to do until then, buddy?"
James considers while David finishes cleaning up, drumming his little fingers on the tabletop. He's still thinking when David comes back to the table to lift him out of the chair, and only comes to a decision as David carries him into the living room.
"Legos?" James suggests timidly.
"Legos it is," David announces. James doesn't complain as David keeps hold of him up the stairs, too busy giggling at the funny faces David makes sure to keep making at him. They burst through the door to James's bedroom, and David tosses his son onto the bed, grinning at the surprised squeak he gets in response. "Where are they, buddy? Where'd you hide them?"
James scrambles off the bed only to crawl under it, feet kicking wildly as he reaches for something. David raises an eyebrow as James finally manages to drag out a small box of Legos from the depths of under his bed. James pops off the lid of the box and gestures impatiently for his daddy to join him crouching on the floor.
David does as ordered, ignoring the protesting from his knees as he drops to James's level and helps the boy dig through the box. James gathers together a specific pile of little blocks before rooting around the bottom of the box. His hand emerges clutching a sheet of crumpled paper, and he flattens it out before showing it to David. It's instructions for how to build a Lego spaceship, and it's obviously what James is hoping to accomplish today. It doesn't look too complicated, but David spares a moment wondering if he'll have a tantrum on his hands when James gets halfway through the project and gets stuck.
Nonetheless, he doesn't stop James from excitedly beginning the task. David dutifully hands over the correct pieces at the right times, and makes sure James is reading the instructions correctly. It doesn't take long for David's fears to quickly become unfounded, once he sees the ease with which James figures it out. It's with amazement that David watches his son easily piece together the spaceship with very little difficulty.
Within half an hour, they've completed the spaceship, the castle, and the boat. David is completely astounded. James carefully puts his new creations on a spare spot of his bookshelf, while David dumps the remaining Legos back into the box and slides it under the bed.
"Can we go to the park now, Daddy?" James asks anxiously, nearly vibrating from excitement.
David lets his gaze wonder to the clock. "I don't know," he teases. "Maybe we should wait for Mommy. She might say no…"
James gasps in horror at the thought, and almost before David realizes, he runs out of the room.
"Whoa!" David says, hurrying after the boy. "James, where are you going?"
He follows the little boy to David and Carolyn's room, where James has climbed onto their bed in order to reach the phone. It's grasped in his hands, thumbs hovering over the keys, with James frowning down at it.
"Buddy," David says in bemusement from the doorway. "What are you trying to do?"
"Calling Mommy," James answers, still frowning. "I wanna talk to Mommy about the park, and she's at work. When Daddy's at work, me and Mommy call you."
David walks over the bed, sits beside James, and gently takes the phone from his hands. James lets him, looking miserable. "You and Mommy only call me at work when I don't come home at night," David reminds him. "Mommy will be home in a few hours. You can talk to her then. I promise she won't mind about the park."
James brightens a little, but he still looks confused. "When you go to work and I'm sleeping, you wake me up to say bye-bye. You give me kisses and hugs before you go. Mommy didn't wake me."
David stays quiet for a moment, dropping the phone and pulling James close to his side. He wonders how on earth he's supposed to explain to his four-year-old that he wakes him up in case it's the last time he gets to. David doesn't know how to tell James that there might be a day where daddy doesn't come home.
"Well, Mommy will be home to kiss you goodnight," he finally says, leaving the matter for another day. "I'm sure she'll make up for it. In fact, she'll be home for dinner. While we wait for her, what do you say we finally go to the park and have some fun?"
James instantly perks up, easily forgetting the last few minutes as he grins in excitement. "Park!" he squeals, clambering to the side of the bed in order to slide off. "Park, park, park," he chants, gesturing impatiently for David to follow him as he darts out the room. David only hesitates for a moment before following, letting James' excited voice drown out any concerns that have popped up in the last few minutes.
David makes a detour to James' room before following the boy downstairs, where he finds him hopping at the front door. David holds out the sweater he'd thought to grab from his son's closet, waiting expectantly for James to catch on. "It's a little chilly outside, buddy. You need to put on your sweater before we can go to the park."
James sighs grievously but obediently takes the sweater and wrestles his way into it. He gasps when David swings him up into his arms, but doesn't struggle as he's carried outside and eventually taken to the car, once David's locked the front door behind them. David wrangles James into the backseat and buckles him up in the car seat, much to James' chagrin.
"Daddy," James whines, frowning grumpily. "I'm big now – I don't need a special seat! Even Mommy said I was getting big!"
David settles himself into the driver's seat and eyes his son skeptically through the rearview mirror. "Sorry, buddy, it's the law," he says, buckling his own seatbelt. "In a couple of years, you won't need it, but until then I'm afraid you're stuck with it. Suck it up."
James groans but admits defeat, slouching in his seat and frowning out the window as David starts up the car. He doesn't speak again as they head to the park, but David hears the faint sounds of James mumbling something to himself, and thinks it's probably nursery rhymes.
David sneaks glances at him through the mirror when he can, unable to hold back a soft smile. He doesn't get to spend as much time with James as he would like because of his job, which makes days like today all the more special to him. He loves his job, and he loves his family, and wouldn't dream of giving up either one, but sometimes he likes to forget all about serial killers and stalkers and just pretend he's always with James like this. Despite his weird hours and all the traveling he does for work, Carolyn's made sure that David's been able to see all the milestones in James' life through cameras and phone calls. He reads James a bedtime story every night when he's away at work, and makes sure to kiss him goodbye when he leaves.
David pulls into the parking lot of the community park, quickly undoing his seatbelt and getting out of the car before James can get too impatient. He opens the door to the backseat, but pauses when he sees James struggling with the child safety belt of his carseat.
"Need some help?" David asks mildly.
James shakes his head fervently, still fighting with the buckle. His tongue peaks out of his mouth in concentration.
"Buddy, those are kid-proofed. You're not going to be able to – "
The buckle pops open, and James is free. David blinks.
James smiles in victory and jumps out of the car, breaking David out of his astonishment. He grabs James' hand before he can run off, and guides him over to one of the benches overlooking the playground.
A teenage girl at the other side of the park waves to them, bundled down with a bag full of what looks like kid supplies, and it takes David a second too long to recognize her as Anna, James' babysitter. Two kids are running around her, older than James, so David assumes these are her brothers, the ones James' talks about playing with whenever she looks after him.
"Do you want to go see Anna?" David asks James, who strains to see her over the playground. To aid him, David lifts him up and places him on the bench, so he's almost level with his father's height. "You can play with her brothers – er, Dominic and…"
"Brandon," James supplies. "No, thank you. I play with them all the time. I never get to play with you," he says dramatically.
"Well, then what should we play today?" David is quick to ask, not eager to go down that particular road. "The slide's free, and there's only a little girl in the sandpit. You might make a friend."
James considers for a moment, scanning the playground as he tries to reach a decision. David waits patiently, keeping a discreet eye on the exhausted looking Anna and privately thinking that the girl must be glad she doesn't have to watch James today as well. He takes a moment to wrack his brain to remember if Anna has a little sister as well, but rather quickly figures the child in the sandpit must belong to the man on the opposite side of the playground.
He's brought back to focus when James gives a hefty sigh. "The swings," he says, pointing. "Please?"
David's quick to comply with his son's wishes, scooping James up off the bench and carrying him over to the swingset. He plops James into the basket seat, ignoring the boy's scowl; it's easy to melt away once David starts to push the swing. He starts slowly at first, not wanting it to get too high, but obviously James is more of a thrill-seeker than his father gives him credit for. James cries for him to push higher and higher, and David can't resist once James starts laughing in delight.
"If I push you any higher, you'll spin right around the top bar," David teases lightly.
"Nuh-uh," James denies, swinging his legs as he flies through the air and back again. "Not poss-i-ball."
"Sure it is," David says. "Want to try it out?"
Despite his claim of the impossibility, James' eyes widen and his grip on the chain of the swing tightens. "No!" he says. "Too high! I want to get down now, Daddy!"
David immediately catches hold of the swing and brings it to a halt, giving James an apologetic smile. He lifts the boy out of the basket and places him back on his feet, reaching down to keep hold of his hand. "Alright, kiddo," he says. "What do you want to do now?"
James hums as he looks over the park again. His hand floats up to point at something. David's gaze follows in that direction. "Daddy, what's that?" James asks, cocking his head to the side.
"That's a chess table," David supplies. "Would you like to go see?"
James nods enthusiastically, so off they go to examine this new thing. David helps his son up into one of the chairs, and then he takes the other one. James pokes at the pieces curiously, picking up a pawn and rolling it in his hand.
"Daddy, will you teach me to play?" he asks, eyes hopeful. David considers for a moment, being honest with himself as he assesses his own chess ability and his ability to teach. "Please?"
"Alright," David agrees. "Well, there's six different pieces – that one you've got there is a pawn." He begins pointing them all out, detailing their movements and places to an enraptured boy, somewhat dubious that James will manage to absorb it all. But his son surprises him by picking it up quickly, drinking it all in and being eager to play.
On their fifth game, James wins.
Hours later, Carolyn gets home from work and finds both her boys in the kitchen. They're sitting at the table, both of them with a rainbow of crayons in front of them. James is scribbling some art work onto a sheet of paper, looking very determined, while David watches him with a contented smile, absently rolling crayons towards him.
Carolyn leaves her handbag and keys on the coffee table in the living room before leaning against the door frame to the kitchen. "Hello," she calls once she realizes that neither Rossi boy has noticed her.
David's the first to look up, giving her a smile that melts her a little bit inside, before he nudges James and gestures. Seeing his mother, James squeals happily and slides out of his chair, bounding towards her. Carolyn catches him in her arms and swings him up, planting a kiss on his hair and hugging him tight.
"Hey baby," she says, balancing James on her hip. "Did you have fun today with Daddy?"
James nods. "We played with my Legos and builded lots of cool things and we went to the park and played on the swings and we saw Anna and Dominic and Brandon and Daddy taught me chess – "
"Whoa, sounds like a busy day," Carolyn laughs as David joins them. "You two must be tired. You taught him chess?" she directs at her husband, eyebrow raised. "Isn't James a little young for that?"
James yawns, effectively letting his father off the hook, as Carolyn chooses to focus on a sleepy son instead. David takes the opportunity to start clearing off the table, putting away James' art supplies. Carolyn carries James upstairs, petting his hair as she takes him to his room, where she lays him down for a nap and tucks him in.
As James snuggles into his pillow, Carolyn takes care not to disturb as she slips out the room.
Once James wakes from his nap and dinner is served, the boy takes the chance to cheerfully detail their father-son day to his mother, talking so eagerly that Carolyn has to lightly remind him to eat.
David and James team up to clear the table, and Carolyn brings James' art supplies back out, including the picture he'd been working on when she'd got home. David offers to 'supervise', sliding into the seat next to James and peering at his work. James hardly seems to notice, with his tongue sticking out and his brow furrowed in concentration as he gets each colour and line just so.
"What are you drawing?" David asks curiously. "May I see?"
James' head shoots up to stare at his father with huge eyes. His hands flatten to cover his paper so that David can't see what he's been working on. "Nuh-uh," James says. "Not till I'm done. Surprise for Mommy and Daddy."
David raises his hands helplessly in surrender, letting James return to his artwork. They remain in silence for a bit after that, David surreptitiously trying to get a glimpse of the secret project. He isn't very successful.
A while later, Carolyn appears by the entryway. "James," she calls. "Time for bed, baby." She holds out her hand, and though James grumbles, he obeys and slips away from the table. Throwing a suspicious look David's way, James takes the drawing with him.
Fifteen minutes later finds Carolyn getting ready for bed herself and David comfortably reclined on the couch, fresh book in his hands and work pleasantly distant from his mind. He looks up when he hears the quiet pitter-patter of small feet, and spots James hesitating at the other end of the couch, clutching his ugly teddy bear to his chest. He's in his space pajamas, the two-piece set decorated with glow-in-the-dark planet and stars, and it makes him glow faintly green.
Seeing James shifting from foot to foot, David puts down the book and sits up. "What's wrong, kiddo? Why aren't you in bed?"
James fidgets with his bear. "Can you tell me a bedtime story?" he asks, inching closer to the couch.
Smiling, David pats the spot next to him. "Of course," he says. He helps James clamber up onto the couch, and his son cuddles up next to him. "Book or made-up story?"
"Make up a story," James decides, sneaking his thumb into his mouth and tightening his hold on his bear. David nods and wraps his arms around his son, searching his brain for a child-safe story to tell. It takes him a moment.
By the time David finishes telling his son the story of brave warriors fighting evil and rescuing peasant towns, James is fast asleep and attached to David's shirt. David's careful not to jostle him too much as he stands and carries him back upstairs, remembering to keep hold of the teddy bear as well. He meets Carolyn in the hallway, freshly dressed in her own pajamas, but she merely rolls her eyes at his sneaky passenger. She drops a kiss onto James' hair and her husband's cheek before disappearing off into their bedroom.
David stifles a yawn as he tucks his son into bed, pressing the bear to his boy's chest and squeezing his shoulder. He hovers in the doorway for a second as he goes to leave, the unease of having forgotten something tugging at him, but he dismisses the thought and carries on. He eases James' door shut behind him and makes to follow his wife.
It's a bit early for him to go to bed, but he has work in the morning and he's sure Carolyn can distract him long enough until a more suitable time for sleep.
Later, when it's dark outside and Carolyn is breathing softly beside him, David remembers that he hasn't checked the locks on the window of either bedrooms. Before the thought can fully form, he's sound asleep.
He's woken the next morning by Carolyn, who shifts the bed as she stands. David's eyes reluctantly pry open to glare at the clock in disgust. It's not even five yet, and he had been planning on sleeping for at least another hour before getting ready for work. He turns his unhappy gaze on a sheepish Carolyn.
She smiles apologetically. "Sorry," she says. "Didn't mean to wake you. Just getting a glass of water. Go back to sleep. I don't work today, I'll deal with James if he's awake."
David says nothing, merely closes his eyes and sinks back into the pillows. He hears the soft footfalls of his wife as she leaves the room, and manages to lull himself into a half-conscious state, hoping to fall back asleep soon. He's almost managed it when a sharp, panicked cry wrenches him fully awake with an unpleasant abruptness.
He's bolted out of bed and halfway down the hall before the sounds even registers properly in his sleep-addled brain. He sprints to James' room and spots Carolyn immediately, standing outside the door and covering her face. He stumbles to a halt beside her, worry erupting violently within him when he sees her horrified, glassy eyes.
"David," she says in a trembling voice. She looks hollow and pale, so frail it seems like she might shatter. "He's gone. James is gone."
Hardly daring to breathe and starting to feel sick, David numbly turns to their son's room and steps inside. Broken toys are strewn across the floor, looking trampled on as if in a struggle. The pillow is ripped and on the floor, and James' ugly teddy bear is lying forlornly under the bed. There's no sign of James himself. David's eyes are drawn to the windowsill. The window's wide open, letting in a gentle breeze, and David immediately zeroes in on the stain of red on the wood. Blood, he thinks. Blood on the window of his son's room. The window he'd forgotten to lock last night.
Beside it flutters a stray bit of paper, trapped. David's isn't aware of the feeling of his legs giving out from under him, but he suddenly finds himself on the floor, leaning against the wall as he listens to his wife begin to cry. He can't tear his eyes away from the blood stain, even when Carolyn starts calling out for James.
He doesn't hear Carolyn call the police, nor does he notice when she breaks down in the hallway.
He just feels numb.