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Taking Shots

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The reunion was always great.

 

Every single year without fail, three days before Christmas, his entire family—all his brothers and their kids, and maybe all his Auntie Bea’s kids and their kids—turned up at the house practically all at once. This process usually ended with mass chaos and general pandemonium as the O’Connell family was pulled from all corners to be let loose for a few days in their hometown. The only real rule during the reunions was to be kid-friendly, which meant no cursing or heavy drinking, but the O’Connell boys didn’t need to drink to be incredibly stupid on a mass scale.

 

“Ay yo, Tony!” Scout called, running and jumping onto his older brother’s back.

 

“Ay, Shrimp!” Tony said, perking up, adjusting to the weight without spilling a single drop of his drink. “Here I was thinking you wouldn’t make it—Ma said you just started the drive like, a few days ago! Ain’t your job on the other side of the planet?”

 

“Hey, you don’t show up late to dinner,” Scout replied with a grin, and his brother laughed, ruffling his hair over his shoulder. Scout hopped off his back and went to stand in front of him like a normal person.

 

“You remember Theresa—an’ you’ve met Carly, right?” Tony asked, gesturing first to the woman standing next to him and smiling warmly, then to the little girl currently hiding behind her mother’s legs. She had Theresa’s nose and hair, but O’Connell curiosity in her expression.

 

“Yep! But she was still a little loaf back then,” Scout confirmed. He took a knee to be level with the kid, putting a hand forward to shake. “Hey, I like your shoes. Those are cool colors. Nice to see ya.”

 

The girl looked at the hand, then his face, then her dad, then his face. Finally, she shook his hand, and he exaggerated the motion a bit, which made her giggle and hide again.

 

“Aww. She’ll come out of her shell around the other kids, I think,” Theresa said. “Speaking of, are you going to be in charge of that?”

 

Scout gave a world-weary sigh, standing up again. “Guess so, if no one else took it.”

 

“Well, we left the baby with Ma in the living room, but they should all be in the basement otherwise,” Tony said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

 

Suddenly, two young men darted up, practically crushing Scout in a hug. He yelped, just barely keeping them all on their feet, and they lurched upright to the sound of laughter, Tony rolling his eyes fondly and roaming elsewhere.

 

Two faces entered Scout’s vision on either side, and if he hadn’t recognized the laughter, he would’ve thought he was seeing double.

 

“Remy!” one of the twins exclaimed, grinning.

 

“Alright, alright, hold on—which one’s which? It’s been like, months,” Scout said, pointing between the two twins before they could get too deep in shenanigans.

 

“I’m B, he’s T,” the one on the left said.

 

“He’s B, I’m T,” the one on the right said at the exact same time.

 

“Got it,” Scout said, nodding once. “On that note, Benny? You’re disowned.”

 

Benny’s expression dropped, replaced with surprise. Terry just looked bemused. “Aww, what? What’d I do?”

 

“As kids, we laughed about it. Made jokes about the type of person you’ve somehow become. You ended up as the thing you once hated. What are you thinking?” Scout asked solemnly, and Terry was starting to grin, waiting for the punchline. Benny looked nervous.

 

“What did we laugh at?” Benny asked, sighing as he put the nail in his own coffin.

 

“Dads who wear socks with sandals and shorts in December, what is wrong with you!” Scout finally shouted, gesturing dramatically. Terry was sent cackling, and Benny slugged Scout on the shoulder.

 

“Hey, I gotta look the part of dad,” he muttered.

 

“Ay, he’s deflecting, get on your game, B,” Terry said, hand on his brother’s shoulder. He lit up instantly. Scout did the opposite.

 

“Deflecting? From what?” Scout said, glancing back and forth.

 

“The fact that you’re seeing someone!” Benny said, wearing the type of grin that took his face back almost a decade, to teenage shenanigans and a few little fires that he’d had absolutely nothing to do with.

 

Scout froze. He was cornered. “Oh god.”

 

“And the fact that you two are pretty serious,” Terry continued.

 

“Please, no.”

 

“And the fact that you brought this person with you to the reunion,” Benny finished, and Scout considered bolting.

 

“I uh, I gotta go, I think I heard Ma—“ he tried weakly, but the twins each grabbed an arm before he could make a break for it, starting a leisurely walk down the hallway.

 

“Tell us about this mysterious date,” Terry said, smiling. “First I heard of you tryin’ a long-term thing since that job’a yours.”

 

“Uh. Well, he’s actually a co-worker,” Scout said, glancing away. “An’ it wasn’t planned, it just kinda... happened.”

 

“That sounds like a fun story,” Benny said, raising his eyebrows at Terry, who nodded solemnly. “Where’s he at? I haven’t seen any strangers around the house.”

 

“Um. He had to find somewhere to park,” he said. “Should be here soon. He’s... shy.”

 

“And with you?” Terry asked.

 

That must be interesting,” Benny nodded.

 

“Nah, he just prefers to keep his distance until he knows you,” Scout said. “He worked alone out in the wilderness for a long time. He’s used to it.”

 

“Wilderness? Where?” Benny asked, interest piqued.

 

Scout hesitated for a few seconds, contemplating the shitstorm he was about to start. “...Australia,” he finally mumbled, and the twins stopped walking.

 

“...Remy,” Benny said.

 

“Remy,” Terry said.

 

“Please tell me you’re saying what I think you’re saying,” Benny said.

 

Scout gulped. “Uhhh. What’s it sound like I’m saying?” he asked nervously.

 

“It sounds like you snagged a mysterious rugged foreign man is what it sounds like,” Terry said. “Are you—he’s from Australia? Like, Australia Australia? The country-slash-continent where everyone is ripped including the ladies?”

 

“Not everyone, he’s not like, Saxton Hale or nothin’, but. Yeah, that Australia,” Scout confirmed, face going red.

 

Oh my god,” the twins whispered in unison, staring at each other, faces lit up with absolute glee.

 

“I swear to god—“ Scout started, but then his shoulders were released, and each twin had bolted in an opposite direction, clearly having already made a game plan. That didn’t bode well. Scout straightened up, sighed, fixed his cap, and started making his way towards the living room.

 

Every year, ever since Archie had his first kid a little over a decade prior, Scout had been unofficially dubbed the babysitter for the reunion. His brothers and their wives would wander and talk and catch up amongst themselves, and Scout would watch their kids for them, making sure they didn’t do anything too stupid. For some reason, the kids liked him a lot, and tended to listen to what he told them to do.

 

This year, since it would be the first reunion since someone stopped being a dick and showed up, the number of kids was up to a record high of thirteen, and he had no idea how he was supposed to pull it off. But, as he realized halfway through the drive over to Boston, at least this time he’d have someone else to help him.

 

He glanced out the window by the front door just in time to see Sniper making his way up the front path. He opened the door and waved, and Sniper visibly perked up, walking just a bit faster.

 

“Hey,” Scout said when Sniper stepped inside, shutting the door to block out the cold. “Coats go there, nobody cares about taking off the shoes since it isn’t snowing yet, just don’t stand on the furniture or nothin’, cool?”

 

“Right,” Sniper said, hanging up his jacket on the already crowded hook along with his scarf, gloves shoved into his hood, adjusting his hat absent-mindedly. The abundance of coats already present seemed to make him uneasy. “Er, how many folks are already ‘ere?” he asked nervously.

 

“Uhhhh...” Scout did a quick tally in his head, counting off on his fingers, and Sniper blanched when he had to double over. “About twenty-five, if you count us two,” Scout finally decided on. “But most of ‘em are kids.”

 

“Right.” Sniper tugged at his shirt, adjusted his hat, tugged his shirt again. “Right. That’s—that’s not that many.”

 

“Yeah. You’ve got this.” Scout took his hand for a second, rubbing it between his own, trying to warm it up from the outside chill still clinging to it. “There’s five other brothers, four wives, an’ Ma. That’s like, pretty much the size of the team. You can handle that. An’ they’ll like you, nothin’ not to like.”

 

“But I’m bad with names,” Sniper fretted, “I know bugger all about small talk, an’—“

 

“Nothin’. Not. To like,” Scout insisted. “And uh, we talked about this before we left, but everyone here’s probably gonna be calling me some variation of Jeremy. So, that’ll probably be weird.”

 

“Real weird,” Sniper agreed, glancing nervously down the hall, where there was the sound of laughter.

 

“An’ I’ll introduce you as Snipes, since you wanted, but they probably won’t bat an eye at that, we have weird nicknames for each other anyways an’—“

 

“Michael,” Sniper cut in suddenly, abruptly, jolting slightly in place, hand twitching in its place between Scout’s.

 

Scout blinked, confused. “Huh?” he asked after a moment.

 

“Michael. Michael Mundy. That’s...” His words seemed to be escaping him, and he was rapidly getting more exasperated with himself as the seconds passed. “M’parents called me Mickey when I was a tyke, or Mick, but, any will do, I don’t mind, most of those—those nicknames. Michael is the full... version. Of the name. Michael Mundy is, rather.”

 

Scout had frozen up, was staring with wide eyes at him.

 

“I just figured—takin’ me to y’house to meet y’family an’ all, it’s, I mean—“ He was all tongue-tied, rapidly going red in the face. “An’ you gave me your name s’well, even before that, an’ I just thought, y’know. Least I could... do. Because.”

 

He stalled for a few seconds, the syllables sticking in his throat. He swallowed them back down, looked Scout in the eye, tried again.

 

“Because I trust you,” he finally managed.

 

Scout’s eyes burned just a bit. He swallowed back the lump in his own throat. “Michael,” he repeated, a solemness to his tone. “Michael Mundy.”

 

“Jeremy O’Connell,” Sniper replied, just as solemnly, and he lifted Scout’s hands to lie a kiss on the back of one, and Scout nearly melted in place, suddenly feeling all warm and fuzzy in the center of his chest.

 

“Okay. So... let’s get the big one over with first,” Scout finally said, shaking himself from his reverie. “Let’s go see Ma.”

 

 


 

 

Marie Nicole O’Connell, despite having eight children and multiple jobs over the course of her extremely eventful life, did not look her age, instead trapped somewhere in her mid-forties with her dark hair and still-full face, muscle and curves somehow surviving the endless march of time, along with her pride and integrity (which she found infinitely more valuable than her looks). The only things to give her away were the wrinkles next to her eyes and the occasional trouble with standing up too suddenly, a general soreness in her bones from so long doing hard work.

 

That soreness did not stop her from jumping to her feet the moment she saw her youngest son enter the living room.

 

To be fair, Scout was equally excited, dashing over and scooping her up in an embrace, spinning her in a circle. “Ma!” he cheered, and she laughed, returning the hug, squeezing just as tightly.

 

“Honey!” she cried, “I’m so glad you’re here! Welcome home, sweetie!”

 

“Glad to be home, Ma,” he replied with a sincerity and longing that had Sniper, still standing near the door, shifting awkwardly on his feet. Scout spotted him again over his mother’s shoulder, and let her down, the smaller woman landing easily on her feet, well used to such treatment from her boys. “Oh, Ma! Uh, remember that guy I told you I was bringing?”

 

“Let me guess, he’s the one currently tryin’ out to be the wallflower in the school play?” she asked without having to turn around, hand already on her hip, smiling.

 

“Yeah, that’s him,” Scout laughed, and ticked his head back, gesturing Sniper over. “Uh, an’ you can use my name, by the way.”

 

“Thought you said you weren’t supposed to use 'em?” Ma asked, other hand landing on its corresponding hip. “Some big secrecy thing with your coworkers?”

 

“Yeah, we’re not supposed to. But uh, I trust ‘im, so he knows it already,” Scout shrugged, a little sheepish.

 

“Is that so?” Ma asked, raising an eyebrow and turning to look at Sniper as he approached. Sniper was clearly surprised at how small the woman was, hardly five feet, and how she still managed to hold such a presence in the room despite it.

 

“Er,” Sniper tried, and without his sunglasses on it was much easier to see how nervous he was. He held out one hand to shake. “G’day, ma’am. M’name’s Michael.”

 

“Ma’am!” Ma said, shaking his hand, glancing at Scout with raised eyebrows. “Jeremy, where’d you ever find someone with manners out west?”

 

Scout laughed, and Sniper seemed relieved that he hadn’t instantly offended the woman. She released his hand, taking a step back and giving him an up-and-down, hands back on her hips.

 

“Well, Michael,” she finally said. “Here in this house, we have a rule. Everyone earns their spot at the dinner table, or someone earns it for 'em. So. Do you know how to cook?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Sniper said with a little nod.

 

“Set a table?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Sweep an’ mop a floor?”

 

“Ma, actually,” Scout cut in, leaning forward a bit. “I was hopin’ he could watch the kids with me. I might need the help, now that there’s so many.”

 

“Does he know how to watch thirteen kids between the ages of twelve an’ twelve weeks?” Ma asked, raising an eyebrow. Sniper’s eyes widened minutely.

 

“Does anyone?” Scout replied, grinning.

 

Ma laughed at that, reaching over and tugging on one of his ears lightly. “Sharp as ever. Alright, fine, I’ll ask Theresa an’ Tony to help, but if I get desperate I’m stealin’ him away from you!”

 

“But I like this one!” Scout pouted. “This gonna be like Ricky Hayes?”

 

“Nothin’ will ever be like Ricky Hayes,” Ma said, sighing and shaking her head. “Well, I’ll leave you to it! Nikki has the baby for now, they should all be in the basement.”

 

“Thanks, Ma!” Scout said, leaning down to let Ma give him a peck on the cheek, then she was gone through a doorway into what Sniper could only assume was the kitchen, and he and Scout were alone.

 

A few beats of silence.

 

“Good news is, she likes you,” Scout started, looking over at Sniper. “Bad news is, she’ll drag you into the kitchen an’ put you to work at every family gathering starting now, since she knows you can cook.”

 

“Like you do?” Sniper suggested innocently, leaning out of the way of the hit Scout aimed at his shoulder in retaliation, grinning.

 

“Shuttup,” Scout said, clearly not mad. “Alright, let’s go make sure none of the kids are dead yet.”

 

 


 

 

The door at the bottom of the basement stairs was opened, and the sound of chaos met their ears.

 

Bickering, shouting, laughing, and squealing alike emanated from the room, most of the sounds shrill and a little bit alarming. Scout was ready for it. Sniper, hands clamped over his ears and eyes wide, was not.

 

“How the ‘ell are you gonna do this?” Sniper asked, taken aback and clearly just a bit terrified.

 

“First off, language. Second off, just watch,” Scout said, grin confident.

 

He took a few steps into the large room and stood to his full height, shoulders squared. “Atten-tion!” he shouted, voice rising easily over the noise, and the room fell quiet, all the kids standing quickly, looking over at him with wide eyes.

 

“Uncle J!” one of the kids yelled joyously, and Scout disappeared under a sea of children who didn’t seem to realize the power of their combined weight, all trying to hug him as best they could.

 

Sniper walked in, looking down with mild concern at the unintentional dog-pile. But Scout was laughing, as were most of the kids, so surely it was okay.

 

“Alright, alright, c’mon!” Scout finally called, and the kids reluctantly started getting up. Sniper noted one girl, a bit older than the rest who was standing off to one side and holding a baby, looking at him with intrigue. “Line up, all’a ya! I gotta introduce you to someone!”

 

The kids seemed to finally take notice of Sniper, and they fell into line quickly beside the girl, elbowing each other and whispering as Scout stood and brushed himself off, wincing at the limbs that had probably been bruised against the ground when he fell. Sniper noticed almost right away that the majority of the kids seemed to be girls. Scout looked over the line quickly, doing a head count, ticking off on his fingers to himself.

 

“Hey, I’m only seein’ twelve’a ya,” Scout finally said, frowning.

 

“Did you count the baby?” one girl chirped.

 

“...No I did not,” Scout admitted, and there was a chorus of giggles. “Alright, that’s thirteen then. Is anyone like, currently dying?”

 

A chorus of “no”s.

 

“Sweet. Alright, so this is, uh, Michael,” Scout said, gesturing to Sniper, who nodded his head once at the kids. “He’s really cool but he doesn’t talk that loud, so you gotta be a little quieter than usual if you wanna hear what he’s sayin’, got it?”

 

One kid raised her hand. Scout pointed at her. She lowered her hand. “Why’s he so tall?” she asked innocently.

 

“So he can reach high shelves and see over crowds, c’mon, kiddo, use your head,” Scout replied jokingly. Another girl raised her hand. “Yeah?”

 

“Is he a cowboy?” she asked, and Sniper reached a hand up to his hat, frowning.

 

“No he is not,” Scout replied.

 

“Aww,” the girl murmured under her breath, deflating a bit. A boy raised his hand next, as did the girl next to him.

 

“Uh, you first,” Scout said, gesturing to the boy.

 

“Why’s he so old?” the boy asked. Sniper blinked, and Scout gave the kid a stern look slightly ruined by a smile.

 

“He’s younger than your dad is, kiddo,” he chided. “You callin’ your dad old?”

 

“Yes,” the boy said seriously.

 

“...Fair enough,” Scout said with a shrug. “Well, he’s not much older than me, let’s put it that way.”

 

“How old are you?” he blurted.

 

“Like a billion,” Scout replied without missing a beat. “You next, you had your hand up.”

 

The girl lowered her hand. “Who is he?” she asked.

 

“A guy I like,” Scout replied.

 

“Why?”

 

“He’s cute an’ he puts up with me.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Good question. Yo, why do you put up with me?” Scout asked, looking over at Sniper.

 

Sniper paused, thinking about it. “Because he likes talkin’ to me f’some reason even if I don’t talk back much,” he finally said with a shrug. Scout elbowed him affectionately. Sniper elbowed back.

 

“Why does he talk weird?” one of the kids down the line blurted, her hand raised a bit too late.

 

“He’s from Australia,” Scout replied without missing a beat.

 

“Have you ever fought a tiger?” one of the boys gushed, face lighting up.

 

“That’s Africa, not Australia!” an older girl, possibly his sibling, stage-whispered to him.

 

“Yeah, no tigers,” Sniper agreed. “Seen a panther, though.”

 

A beat of silence. “Wait, really?” Scout asked, surprised.

 

“Yeah. I’ve... I’ve already told you this story, ‘aven’t I? Thought I did,” Sniper said, frowning.

 

“Uh, no! I’d remember somethin’ like that! You saw a panther?!”

 

“Yeah!” Sniper said, hands in his pockets. “I was out in the bush, makin’ a fire so I could get a real dinner, turn to get water an’ I spot this big cat a few meters off! Tried to pounce at me, got me on the arm an’ burnt itself on the fire, bolted off again. Still got the scar an’ everything.”

 

“I wanna see!” one of the girls blurted, and when Sniper looked back, all the kids seemed equally excited.

 

“Well... alright,” Sniper finally agreed, and some of the kids cheered, dashing over to get a good look and chattering excitedly as Sniper rolled up his left sleeve past the elbow.

 

Scout smiled as that happened, moving over to the girl holding the baby. “Ayyy, Nikki!” he said with a smile, and the girl gave him a quick fist-bump in greeting. “What was all this I heard over the phone about a baseball team? Tony wouldn’t say, told me to ask you.”

 

“The coach said he didn’t want girls on the baseball team, so I snuck in dressed like a boy an’ aced tryouts,” Nikki said evenly. “Coach tried to say I couldn’t go anyways, but all the other players wanted me on the team ‘cause I’m such a good pitcher.”

 

“That’s my girl,” Scout said with an approving nod and a grin. “Any of the boys on the team hitting on you?”

 

“No,” Nikki replied lightly.

 

“Anyone in your class hitting on you?”

 

“No,” she said in the same tone.

 

“...Are you hitting on anyone?”

 

“Uh, duh?” she said with a raised eyebrow.

 

“That’s my girl!” Scout cheered, slugging her on the shoulder.

 

“So, Dad said you haven’t met the baby yet,” she said, glancing down at the bundle in her arms. The baby was resting, not reacting much to the noise around their little bubble.

 

Scout shoved his hands in his back pockets, glancing away with a little nod. “Uh, yeah. I uh, I haven’t gotten the chance,” he confirmed quietly.

 

“You know you’ve gotta hold the little guy eventually, right?” Nikki asked.

 

“I know. Just... I dunno. It’s weird,” Scout said.

 

Nikki shifted the bundle and held it with her arms stretched out before her, and Scout quickly took it before she could slip up and drop the baby, instinctive protective fear jolting through him.

 

The little boy blinked his eyes open sleepily, and looked up at Scout with that open curiosity that only the really young can have. He didn’t have any hair on his head yet, but he was just... so small.

 

“Hey there, kiddo,” Scout managed to choke out through the sudden clenching in his chest, feeling like his heart had tripled in size and his lungs shrunk, cheeks hurting from how hard he was smiling all of a sudden. “I’m your uncle. It’s-it’s nice to finally meet you.”

 

“Did anyone upstairs figure out what the name situation is gonna be?” Nikki asked.

 

“I dunno,” Scout answered, poking and prodding at the baby’s hand to keep him interested and awake. “I don’t think it’ll get that confusing for a little bit longer. If someone says ‘Tell Jeremy to pass the salt’ or whatever, you can probably assume it’s me, not the baby.”

 

“Uncle Twins kinda wanted to call the baby ‘Littlest J’,” Nikki said. “Because apparently you’re already ‘Little J’ or something.”

 

“Yeah, that’s a nickname,” Scout nodded. “If not that, we’ll think of somethin’. What was Tony thinkin’, namin’ a kid after me? That’ll be confusing when he’s a teenager.”

 

Nikki shrugged, and suddenly her gaze shifted to look behind him. “Uh. You should probably help your friend,” she suggested, and Scout looked, and saw that two of the kids were clinging to Sniper’s arms, another on his leg, and he had a look of mild alarm as he tried to to keep his balance.

 

“Yeah, probably,” Scout said with a grin, looking back at the baby.

 

“...Uncle J,” Nikki said, giving him a Look and putting her hands on her hips in a way that was entirely too similar to her grandmother.

 

“Meh,” Scout shrugged, grinning wider.

 

“Scout!” Sniper called, fear in his voice, just about toppling over.

 

“Alright, alright, fine!” he acquiesced, rolling his eyes and carefully (carefully) handing the baby back to Nikki, walking over. “Hey, c’mon! I like this one, don’t kill ‘im!”

 

 


 

 

Not long later, the kids had split into two groups—the roughhousers and the gossip circle. Nikki had become the unofficial head of inner-family child-friendly gossip, and Scout wanted to catch up with her and find out what had been going on at home, so he made a deal with Sniper that he would hang out with the quiet group first and they’d switch places if the taller got too overwhelmed again.

 

“But what do kids do?” Sniper had asked insistently, a bit nervous.

 

“Same stuff we did as kids, mostly. You just moderate and mediate, then help them do whatever they wanna do safely. That said, seriously, keep it nonlethal, Legs,” Scout joked, and Sniper managed to muster up a smile in return before he was dragged off again.

 

Within twenty minutes, Scout had made about three crayon drawings and learned about half as much blackmail material as he would need to have on his brothers for the time they would all be in the house. Then Nikki had busted out a bag and insisted that he should hold his hands still.

 

“Why?” he asked, putting his hands flat on one of his drawings, craning his neck to see what was in the bag.

 

“Just hold still!” she ordered, and took out a tiny glass bottle, unscrewing the cap.

 

You can paint nails?” he asked disbelievingly.

 

“Yeah, what’s it to ya?” Nikki replied, turning up her nose.

 

“An’ who exactly did you learn from? I know for a fact that Ma couldn’t’a taught you, an’ all my brothers have big sausage fingers, an’ I have stupid shaky hands,” Scout said.

 

“I learned from my mom, duh,” she said, rolling her eyes.

 

The other kids in the circle giggled and Scout’s face went a bit red. “...Oh. Right,” he said sheepishly.

 

She started on his left hand, and he furrowed his eyebrows for a second when he noticed the gentle cyan color. She noticed the look. “What?” she asked.

 

“Uh... hey, Stretch!” Scout called across the room, not turning just in case he jostled Nikki’s work.

 

“Whot?” Sniper called back.

 

“Am I like, allowed to wear blue? Legally?” he called. “I won’t be in trouble?”

 

“...I mean, yeah? Probably? You’re on holiday,” Sniper replied hesitantly.

 

“Thanks!” Scout called, then looked back at Nikki, who had paused, eyebrow raised. “Nah, we’re good.”

 

His fingernails were a baby blue soon enough, which he had to admit was a pretty pleasant color. Nikki only had to yell at him a little bit when he accidentally smudged them a third time before they dried, making her have to redo it. They had finally dried when Sniper walked over and tapped him on the shoulder, clearly run ragged and frazzled. He didn’t even need to say anything, Scout already standing and giving him a pat on the shoulder, gesturing for him to take his spot.

 

“Are... are your nails painted?” Sniper asked before Scout had the chance to walk away, blinking.

 

“Yep. Your turn now,” Nikki replied from the floor, head having to tilt up pretty far to see Sniper’s expression.

 

“I... I dunno if I—“ Sniper started, fidgeting.

 

“It actually turned out pretty good,” Scout chirped, glancing over the polish. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. We’ll match an’ everything.”

 

“You’ll match an’ everything,” Nikki agreed, nodding.

 

Sniper glanced down at her, then at Scout, then at Scout’s hands, then at her again. He shifted. His face was going a bit red. He tugged at his hat. “...Do you at least have a darker color?” he finally mumbled, and Scout and Nikki had matching grins in that moment.

 

“I’ve got maroon an’ orange,” Nikki said, holding up the other two bottles.

 

“Orange!” Scout chimed, pointing at the bottle in question. “It’s like, opposing colors! An’ it’ll match your shades.”

 

“I’m going to look ridiculous,” Sniper sighed, sitting down.

 

“You sayin’ that I look ridiculous?” Scout asked, raising and eyebrow.

 

“Oh, clearly,” Sniper replied, smirking. “Always.”

 

“Yeah, well, fu... ffffffight me,” Scout said, looking down at the kids and drawing the letter out, mild panic written on his features even after he managed to save it.

 

“What’d you almost say, Uncle J?” Nikki asked, eyes lit up.

 

“I said fight me,” he replied quickly.

 

“No, what’d you almost say?” she insisted.

 

“Gotta go!” Scout said nervously, then dashed off before further questioning could happen.

 

“What’d he almost say?” Nikki asked Sniper next.

 

“Fisticuffs, clearly,” Sniper replied, holding his hand out. She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a few seconds, clearly thinking hard about whether it would be worth it to pursue the topic, but apparently decided against it.

 

“Hold still,” Nikki commanded, starting on his pinkie.

 

“It’s what I’m best at,” Sniper replied, earning a curious look, but no questions.