It’s technically his day off, and it almost stays that way.
Shawn runs into their bedroom before either he or Maddy can wake up, and he makes a beeline for his father, stands next to the bed, and shakes his father’s shoulder until Henry cracks open one eye and stares his son in the face.
“What do you want, oh son of mine?” Henry glances at the clock, and he has another hour until he has to get ready to take Shawn to school. He has a whole ‘nother hour of sleepful bliss, but, of course, Shawn decided not to let that be the case.
Shawn grins and climbs up on the bed. “I think I’m too sick to go to school today,” he says simply, climbing over his father’s legs to nestle between his parents.
Maddy pops her eyes open and props herself up on one elbow.
Henry rolls over onto his back, gathers his son into his arms, and pulls him to his chest. Shawn shrieks and giggles, squirming as soon as his father unleashes the tickles. “Oh, really?” Henry asks, tickling Shawn’s ribs and armpits. Shawn gasps for mercy in between laughter, but Henry ignores the pleas. “You seem alright to me.”
Shawn wiggles out of his father’s grip and slides down the bed, tilting his head all the way back to stare up at his father. “That’s not fair.”
Henry grins at him and ruffles Shawn’s hair. “You have too much energy for you to be sick.”
Shawn sticks out his tongue, moves to all fours, and crawls his way over to his mother’s side. Henry smirks when Maddy rolls over onto her left side, prepared for her son to pop up at her side and beg to skip school. “Hey, Mom, I –”
Shawn stops and stares up at her with wide eyes. “No?” he echoes, still on all fours. Henry absently thinks he looks a little bit like Bambi. “But why?”
Maddy purses her lips and quirks an eyebrow. “What’s your temperature?”
Shawn ducks his head but still keeps his eyes on his mother. “118.5,” he says hesitantly, glancing to his father to make sure that he didn’t go too hard.
Henry starts laughing and covers his eyes with his forearm. He knows that Shawn’s looking at him quizzically, and he can feel Maddy elbow him in the ribs, but man. Shawn really went hard for that. “Shawn, you can’t have a 118 degree fever.”
Shawn lifts his chin in defiance. “Yes, you can! I do!”
Henry throws off the covers, grabs his gray robe, and walks around to Maddy’s side of the bed. Shaking his head, he bends down, picks Shawn up, and starts walking out of the bedroom. “You would be dead by now, Shawn.”
Shawn opens his mouth to argue, but then he re-evaluates his father. “Really?”
Henry nods once to emphasize his point. “Really. Your body starts dying at 107 degrees.”
Shawn’s jaw drops. “How do you know that?”
Henry shrugs one shoulder. “I have a friend who’s a doctor.” He looks back over his shoulder. “Honey, are you coming down? I’m about to make pancakes!” He looks back to his son and narrows his eyes, a smile dancing in his eyes. “Blueberry or chocolate chip? Pineapple isn’t an option.”
Shawn is absolutely affronted. “But pineapple pancakes are the best!”
“Shawn, pineapple pancakes suck.”
Shawn crosses his arms and pouts. “Blueberry.”
Henry looks back over his shoulder. “They’re blueberry pancakes, as per Shawn’s request!”
Once they step into the kitchen, Henry sets Shawn down and lets his son zoom around the kitchen. He thinks he hears something about being an explorer in a foreign land. While Shawn plays in the living room, Henry gets to work making the pancakes.
About five minutes in, Maddy plods down the stairs, tying her pink robe. Her hair is soft and fluffy, just like it usually is, and she wears the pink fuzzy socks Shawn bought her for Christmas. She shuffles over to Henry’s side and gives him a peck on the lips. “Morning.” She smiles lazily, her eyes half-lidded.
Henry smiles back and presses a kiss to the tip of her nose. “And a very good morning to you, honey.” He mixes the batter. “Did you already do your hundred brushes?”
Maddy shrugs. “Listen, I need a solid five minutes to myself everyday. Brushing my hair will get me that five minutes.”
Maddy retreats to the living room to help Shawn in his escapades (apparently, he’s no longer an explorer, but rather a gypsy learning the ways of American people). Henry dollops six scoops of batter onto the pancake griddle, grabs the bowl of blueberries, and drops a few into each of the pancakes. He can overhear some of the conversation going on in the living room, and he’s glad that he has the day off, but he’s not happy that Shawn has to go to school and Maddy has to go to work. Maybe he will call the school and tell them that Shawn is sick.
He flips the pancakes, wipes his hands on the kitchen towel, and stands guard in front of the blueberries when Shawn comes running back in. Henry holds the bowl of blueberries high above his head, and Shawn jumps up, barely coming up to Henry’s chest. “Son, you’ll ruin your appetite, and I worked hard on these!”
Shawn changes his course of action and aims for his father’s arm. “But you keep telling me I need to eat healthy! This is healthy!”
“You can have blueberries after you eat your pancakes!”
Maddy silently takes over the pancake-making process and slides the now-finished pancakes from the griddle and onto three different plates. “Shawn, sweetie,” she says gently, “go get your juice.”
Shawn shrugs, turns away from his father, and pulls the orange juice out of the refrigerator. “Mom, we’re out of pineapple juice.”
She sets each of the plates on the kitchen table and walks up to his side, ruffling his hair. “I’ll make sure to stop by the grocery store and pick some up after work.” Henry passes her a glass, and she unscrews the carton of orange juice and starts pouring.
Shawn takes the glass of orange juice and hurries to his spot, anxiously waiting for his dad to bring the syrup. Henry stands next to Shawn and pours the syrup, carefully watching to make sure that too much doesn’t come out.
Shawn groans. “Why don’t you ever let me pour my own maple syrup?”
Henry stops pouring and straightens the bottle of maple syrup. “Mostly because you’d put way too much on in the first place and give yourself a sugar high.” He glances at Maddy, who’s in the process of pouring both her and Henry some coffee. “Secondly, you know I pour it perfectly.”
Shawn stabs his fork into the pancakes and takes his first heavenly bite. “You’re right, Dad, you do always pour it right.”
Henry shoots him a look. “Shawn, wait until your mother gets here.” He processes what Shawn just said and glares at him. “Then why do you complain about me doing it every time?”
Shawn grins mischievously at him. “Because it riles you up.”
Henry rolls his eyes. Maddy passes him his mug of coffee, complete with one cream. “Thank you,” he says, his eyes following her as she sits down next to him. He’s just about to dig into his own creation when the telephone rings.
Maddy glances around the table. “Who could that be this early in the morning?”
Henry pats her hand. “I’ll get it. It’s probably the station, anyways. They’re the only ones who ever call this early.” He stands up, groaning at the effort it takes to get up (he may be thirty-one, but he’s still young, okay? He can complain about how he shouldn’t be having old man pain), and lifts the phone out of its cradle. “Spencer residence.”
“Henry, get your ass down here. I’m not asking.”
Henry furrows his brow and glances at his family. “Herb, it’s my day off. I’m supposed to take my son to school today.”
Herb sighs heavily, and Henry just knows, even without being there, that he’s running a hand through what’s left of his hair. “Mr. Yang has issued a challenge, Henry. You’re his foe.”
Henry stops breathing.
The room seems smaller, somehow, like it keeps shrinking in on itself. The floor dips and spins, and Henry has to press a hand to the wall to steady himself. “What?” he asks, and he knows that his voice is small, that Shawn and Maddy have stopped eating, and that Shawn is looking at him funnily because why does his dad sound so scared, no, that can’t be, his dad is supposed to be brave –
“Mr. Yang challenged you, Henry. He dropped off a picture of you and an old high school classmate of yours…Jacob Lewboski. Ring any bells?”
Henry’s mouth is completely dry, and he sways a little bit. He feels someone’s hand on his shoulder, and he vaguely recognizes that someone is trying to talk to him. He gulps, and his hands tremble. “That– that was my best friend from high school.” He closes his eyes for a second. “Who’s the victim?”
Herb pauses. “A Mrs. Armond called in a missing persons report, thinking her son was kidnapped. He’s a high schooler, and he didn’t show up to breakfast, and he’s not at school. Henry, we need you. Without you, he doesn’t stand a chance.”
Henry shakes his head emphatically. “No, no,” he says, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. His son has never seen him cry. He’s damn well not going to start crying now. He sniffles and rubs his nose with his free hand. “Herb, it’s my day off, I can’t –”
There’s a loud sound on the other end, like Herb hit his desk as hard as he could with his hand. Henry jumps. “Dammit, Henry! This isn’t a choice that any of us get to make! Either you get your ass down to the station as fast as fucking possible, or I will arrest you for obstructing justice!”
Henry’s hand curls around the telephone. His breaths are shallow and come quickly. “Herb, you don’t understand,” he whispers. “I have a family. If Yang really is back, and if he’s challenged me, I need to protect them first.” He sniffles again and licks his lips. “My son has school today. I need to protect him, and he won’t– there’s no way to protect him there. And…and Madeleine, she’s working, and I just need her to be safe, Herb, you don’t get it –”
Someone tugs at Henry’s robe, and he looks down to see Shawn staring up at him with wide eyes. “Daddy, what’s wrong?”
Maddy looks at Henry apologetically and moves from Henry’s side to kneel by Shawn. “Nothing,” she says, pulling Shawn close to her. She cradles Shawn’s head, carefully turning his face away from Henry. “It’s just some work stuff. Daddy has a big case that he needs to take care of.”
On the other end of the line, Herb sighs again. “Listen, Henry, I get it. You have a family you need to protect, but they’re safest doing what they need to do. I’ll send a couple of officers out to Shawn’s school, and I’ll make sure one is posted outside his classroom at all times. Madeleine works at the station. There’s no place she could be safer. Please, Henry. We need your help.” He hangs up, and Henry stares at the wall for a moment before he carefully places the phone back in its cradle.
Maddy searches Henry’s eyes for any answer. Shawn pulls away from his mother’s embrace to see what’s wrong with his father.
Henry sighs tiredly and runs a hand through his hair. “Yang is back,” he says, absently staring at the kitchen table. They should have been having a nice breakfast, like they do on Saturdays, except it’s Wednesday, but Shawn remedied that by waking them up an hour earlier. They should have been enjoying their extra time together. Henry shakes his head. “Yang is back,” he repeats, “and he challenged me.”
Maddy gasps. “Oh my God.”
Shawn looks between his two parents. “Who’s Yang?”
Henry shakes his head again, trying to clear the cobwebs from his brain. “What if I lose, Mad?”
Maddy stands up, cups Henry’s face in both of her hands, and gently forces him to look at her. “Henry,” she says firmly, “listen to me. You won’t lose. You won’t let that happen.”
Henry smiles bitterly. “Mad, I don’t make the rules in this game. I either keep Yang interested enough to play, or the kid is dead. End of story.”
Maddy pulls back and searches Henry’s eyes. “The victim is a minor?”
Henry nods and scrubs his hand over his face. “Yeah.”
“Oh my God.”
Shawn stomps his foot, and both Maddy’s and Henry’s eyes snap to him. “No one answered my question! Who is Yang?”
Henry feels his throat tighten, and he kneels in front of his son. “Yang is a very, very bad man. You know those criminals you’ve seen me interrogate?”
“He’s worse, Shawn. He kidnaps people, threatens to kill them, and challenges a detective or cop to save the victim. No one has ever won. The last time, the detective who went up against him went farther than anyone before, but he lost, and an innocent girl died.”
Shawn searches his father’s eyes. “Why are you so scared about Mom and me?” he asks simply.
Henry smiles tearfully at him and kisses Shawn’s forehead. “Because,” he says, running his hand through Shawn’s hair, “Yang did his research on me. He knows who I am, and he knows about everyone I care about. He might use you two as bait.” He pulls his son into a hug and holds him protectively. “And he knows I can’t protect you while you’re at school.”
Maddy squeezes Henry’s shoulder. “Henry, you need to get down to the station. You’re already running out of time.”
Henry nods, kisses Shawn’s temple, and stands. Before he can head back up the stairs, Maddy grabs his hands and looks him in the eyes. “I’m terrified, Henry.”
Henry nods and kisses her. It’s not a kiss of passion or even particularly romantic, but he needs her to know how much he loves her in case this thing goes south. She seems to understand, and he can taste her tears on her lips. “I love you,” he says to her, and he looks to Shawn, who is trying very hard to seem brave. He bends down, cups Shawn’s chin, and makes sure Shawn’s looking him in the eyes. “I love you, Shawn. More than words can say.”
Tears fill Shawn’s eyes, but Shawn presses his lips together and nods. “I love you, too, Dad.”
Henry looks up at the staircase, and today, it seems longer than ever.