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Favourite Mugs and Other Portents

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On being offered a chance to join an Avengers mission, Scott said: "No."

Wilson had time to make a disappointed yet accepting face (so sincere! heartstrings tugged! What a conman this guy could make) before Scott realised how that sounded. He nearly lunged across the coffee shop's table to grab Wilson's heroic, awesome hand and give it a shake.

"By which I, I mean - wow, just, so unexpected and overwhelming, yes. Absolutely yes. Put her there, partner. That 'no' was the disbelief and overwhelm … ment talking, while the 'yes' is a firm, resounding, yes-please-and-thank-you on offering assistance to the Avengers. Half the Avengers. I am a born infiltrator; no one could do the job better."

"I had an inkling," Wilson said, dry as dust.

"I am also, of course, very ready to contribute as part of an apology to you. Because I owe you and I am so, so sorry."

"The muffin basket covered a good 50% of the apology. This can be the other half. Now, the apologies during the actual punching and all? Let's be clear, those do not count. That was just rubbing it in."

"Man, please don't mess with me," Scott begged. Sending the muffin basket along with contact details had had him nervous enough already.

Thankfully, Wilson smiled and shrugged, and not even with undue satisfaction at getting Scott to start squirming. Okay, time to make sure his smile did not give off too obvious a vibe of big & relieved feeling. There was really no need to make it all that clear he was a dumbass as well as the guy who'd beat him up (for the greater good, though, that had to count for a little bit).


"I should have told him no! Why didn't I tell him no?" Scott asked his colleagues and friends, because they'd been there when he got the request to help out.

"There's an alternate universe where you did. And in that universe, you're sitting on the couch freaking out about how you should have gone for it." Luis gave him a sage look and a shrug. "The Avengers, man. That's like, no-brainer. Gotta fight on their side if you can."

"I bet I could have helped against Ultron," Kurt muttered, as per tradition. He only sounded convincing about it late at night while expounding on his hacking skills as he was lit by the glow of a laptop, so Scott only groaned a 'why do you people all hang out at my place so much of the time' groan and lightly banged his head against the coffee table.

"Are we still your team for this or is this a time where we sit back and you get us signatures?" Dave said. "Saleable ones, if you can manage. Like, maybe Cap's can go on a baseball, or something. That would work, right?"

"Sounds very old-school Americana, I think it would fly," Scott said. "But uh, that's probably dependent on if I can get a word out of my mouth, ooohhhh my god, it's gonna be Captain America. Ms Maximoff, like, with magic powers, alongside of me. Falcon! No longer pissed at me!"

"I have my suspicions regarding Vision, too," said Kurt, and even though it was merely by the light of his phone, he still managed to pack the menace in. Everybody gave him a sidelong glance, but he was busy zigzagging his finger wildly across the screen and making kung pow movie noises.

"But ... are we your team?" Dave said. He made a 'why do you people all hang out in my place so much of the time' kind of noise too. (Huh. Scott guessed he was spending more time over there, now he was thinking about it.) "You need us to have your back?"

"'Cause you know we would," Luis said.

Scott reined in his nerves about the Avengers stuff and got down to the business in front of him. "Yeah, guys. That's why I'm running this by you. I dunno, it'd be weird not to have you guys running round with me on this one. But like, I think it's going to be fine. The Avengers are professionals, they're going to help me with the ins and outs of official mission work and whatever."

"Do not try the giant-man thing yet. My only advice."


This was why he should have told the Falcon no, Scott thought as he walked up to the front door of Maggie and Paxton's place. But this was the reason why he'd said 'yes'.

They took the news well. "Your pops thinks I'm really cool now," Paxton told Cassie. "Imitating me, see, making a career of the whole 'being heroic' thing."

Cassie mostly stayed quiet, looking at him with big, serious eyes. When she did speak, she said, "I get it," and "It's important."

"Come back," Maggie instructed - behind her, Paxton looked up with a solemn nod - and Scott promised that he would.


He should have told Hope and Hank, too - but Sam had made the concessions he could and there was no more time to spare, and Scott had already had the suit with him. Hank and Hope both got the whole do-the-necessary concept. They were more big-picture thinkers than Scott was, and he'd decided to hope that counted as something close enough to permission.

Which was possibly the biggest clue, in retrospect, that he should have said no. Leaning on 'it is better to ask forgiveness ...' had been his lifelong downfall.

Scott had said yes and he'd left, and whether because of one thing or another, the world was still in one piece. He'd contributed what he could. Time to accept the downsides and figure out a way to make them matter less.

He and Clint Barton were in the same frame of mind, which made getting re-arrested go down a lot easier. Scott would have turned himself in anyway, but it helped to have someone with him who could crack incredibly dry jokes about it. And the whole thing with the Avengers being permanently split up was really, incredibly unfortunate to contemplate for the world at large, but it did also mean that public feeling around the legislation of people with powers or access to powerful technology was less volatile. Enough so that they could get extradited to the States.

Enough so that Scott could make a phone call, and Cassie picked up in an instant, demanding to know what the unfamiliar number was, crying with relief when she heard his voice.

It also helped that she didn't tell him, even now, that he should have said no to going to help the Avengers - half of them, anyway, as it had turned out. Maybe Cassie was too much like him. And like Maggie - maybe like Paxton, too. Those two had more of a sense for wacky concepts like right, wrong, and accountability than he did, or at least had been polishing theirs up for longer. Scott had come by his late and pretty damn dishonestly, though he had his understanding of those things lined up now.

He and Clint argued with the authorities for what they could - Clint pushing the boundaries in a way that helped when Scott was nervous about taking the chance. Once the terms were in place, they took care to cooperate very nicely with the police and government agents that spoke to them at every place they touched down. In DC they separated with a handshake, told they were about to get set on their routes home.


Maggie's house had a lot of natural light. That was almost as much fact as wistful remembrance - he could remember Cassie asking him, once, if all the talk about the direction windows faced in and the pros and cons of knocking down another wall was a secret code for something not-boring. That had been a dinner where the whole X-Con crew had ended up being invited when they were dropping Scott off, so any points of commonality anyone found in the conversation had been treasured. They'd really gone in on the quality of light in the place, since several of them shared experience in construction and the dream of living somewhere actually nice and with a minimum of infestations.

His and Luis's place was great in just those ways. Well, average. Well, no, it was great - well-furnished, not too much of a pain in the ass in terms of maintenance, roomier than anywhere he'd lived since age sixteen. If they got kicked out of here, he'd actually cry. The trouble was that the spectre of house arrest cast a pall over the whole interior like there was an unexpected eclipse taking place. Gloom and grey started clinging to everything.

On the other hand: It wasn't the Raft. He knew what to expect here, as opposed to wondering what might happen to him and the rest of his team; his sentence had a length to it, stated upfront and made a matter of public record; he was home in his city, and any time they could make it he would see his family. Yeah, it was awful that he couldn't go round to Maggie's place anymore, drive Cassie to soccer, go out to eat, go see the guys in person at the new office. He still wasn't in a cell. He was closer to those family dinners in that bright, airy, giant-ant-loving household than he'd been in far too long.

It turned out Jim Paxton was the first person to show up to see him and welcome him back home. Scott lost his mind about it.

The fact that he was still calling the guy Paxton, because resentful 'Cassie's stepdad', 'Maggie's fiancé' classifications had lingered for far too long in his head, made zero difference. One look and Scott dragged him inside the house with something bordering on a wrestling hold. The whole muscular, extra-padding mass of him, warm and so familiar, right there with Scott. A whole lot of back-clapping and shoulder-squeezing followed; a judicious sniffle or fourteen. Then he had to hold him at arms' length, just to marvel at the fact that his haircut was about the same.

"Maggie--in traffic--" Paxton said, awkward as hell. He was still enough of a cop to give Scott a good look up and down - but the expression on his face turned even more awkward. Emotional. Worried.

Oh, wow, was that kind of nice of him? It was!

"Yeah, Luis called me to say the same thing! Stuck in traffic, just one of those days!" Scott pretty much yelled at him, and then decided that he was surprisingly at peace with having turned into a golden retriever. He hustled them to the living room. "Man, how have you been? You look good! How are you guys? Don't tell me Cassie stories until Cassie's told me--no spoilers. Unless there was serious trouble at school or anything in that kind of context. Does she still have that spoilers rule or has she forgotten about it? But you can tell me the latest station soap opera news! Would you like some, uh, OK ... there's water or milk?"

"Sit down, Lang. I'll get the water." Paxton was grinning by now. "And I'll get you some too."

Scott looked around - he wasn't entirely sure if he'd forgotten the layout of the place or if it had changed - and sat on the couch. Luis made it look much easier when he went off like that, but maintaining a real thread was a challenge. Had he managed to have an actual point that he could have worked his way back to?

Relief. That was the point.

He listened to the sound of a couple of cabinet doors open and shut, then the water being poured, and was rewarded by Paxton re-emerging.

"Sorry about the sad offerings in terms of drinks," Scott told him. "I get the impression Luis has been doing a lot of work at the office and didn't quite prepare for my sudden reappearance."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Paxton said. "Between me and Maggie, your problem with not being prepared is about to fall by the wayside. Like, completely."

He was still grinning, but the worry was still there. From the police guy to the con, from the stepdad to the deadbeat, mister common sense to a disaster artist. They'd been getting along so, so much better for months, but now it really hit Scott that Paxton wasn't showing any trace of thinking in those terms. He couldn't stop assessing Scott - the signs of being jailed away from sunlight, of being on the run, and probably of some things he and the rest of the family had been scared might happen.

There was a bit of strangeness to having that proof of being missed, and he let Paxton send quick messages to Maggie and Cassie to prime their expectations. And it was good to see him doing that - knowing he had their backs while Scott wasn't there to do so - and it was, in its own distinct feeling, good to see him.


"Yeah, dude?"

Paxton came over, made a hand gesture. "Up."

Still feeling some of that golden retriever vibe, Scott shot to his feet - and got one of the top ten hugs of his life. Paxton worked out. "Glad you're back with us, man."


The greeting to Cassie had to be timed right. Should he show his face or not? Scott contemplated, but then he heard Maggie yelling - possibly from the street, by the sound of it - and a few seconds later, there was a pounding on the door. Maggie's voice was still a little distant, so...

Scott unfurled the gift and held the top to his chest - no point being a coward, face-to-face was definitely the better idea - then opened the door with his other hand.

They fell into each other with a hug. Scott didn't feel it when he landed on his ass, and when a few minutes passed and he thought it was time to deploy the strategy, it took a few tugs at the gift caught between them before Cassie realised that something felt odd.

"I got you a beach towel!" Scott said. Behind him, Paxton let out a noise between a groan and a laugh. Standing in the doorway, Maggie was smiling so hard he didn't think she'd quite heard what he said yet. But he'd probably still hear about it for years to come. He just hoped it would be while everyone laughed.

Cassie's whole face started transforming, from a level of desperation and joy that made him want to fall to his knees, to an expression that made him want to edit it into a side-by-side comparison with Bruce Banner's pre-Hulk face.

"You went to the beach, Daddy?" There was serious danger in that voice. Betrayal.

"I absolutely did not go anywhere near a beach, a lake, a river, not even a duck pond. There was a sewer, but let's not talk about the sewer, except to be very clear that there were no tourist shops there. See, I was going to get you a disguise when I was busy getting one, because that would have been super cool. But then it would have looked like I got you something convenient. So I went to a couple more places, looking for something special, and then I saw it. A beach towel, with a gorgeous vista of the snowy Alps. Look, it has skiers!"

Cassie's eyes followed the path the little skiers had left in the snow. "That's such a weird thing to put on a beach towel."


"And it's so big. I like having big towels. And wrapping up all the way in them." She was starting to smile. A mostly normal smile, not desperate or sad for a moment.

Maggie came to sit beside them, wrapping an arm around Scott's shoulders and kissing him soundly on the cheek. "Thanks for bringing yourself back, too."

"Oh, you want your gift? You still like Turkish delight, right?"

She didn't sock him, she didn't even roll her eyes! Maggie just gave him another kiss.


Paxton's comment about being prepared made a lot of sense once Maggie and Cassie, and what had to be the product of days and days of work, had reached them.

He stood in the kitchen with Luis contemplating dish upon dish of food while the other three sacked out in the living room, emotionally exhausted.

"It looks like there was a funeral," Luis said. "You know, like when it's somebody in the neighbourhood that passed away, and you go by their family's house, and you take them a big dish of like, your comfort food specialty because they won't be feeling like cooking anytime soon, they'll be in the process - you know, of mourning."

He regarded the kitchen table, and so did Scott. It was covered in quiches and lasagnes and casseroles and pies. How well did quiche keep? They didn't have reheating instructions pinned to them like some of the other stuff did. Maybe they'd better have two of those now, stick the other two in the fridge for tomorrow. Wait, did Cassie eat quiche? That didn't seem like a ten-year-old's idea of a meal. Maybe if he made it sound as gross as possible.

Luis's voice snapped him out of idle contemplation.

"But it's not a funeral, because you're fine. Or, I mean ... you didn't die."

"What you're saying is, I'm not fine?" Scott said.

"That is not what I said, definitely that's not what I said--um. Like, I think I can tell about the part where you were back in prison just from looking? But the breakout did you good! You got colour back in your cheeks and everything!"

Scott gave him a gentle slap on the arm and Luis sucked in a breath.

"They worried, man," he said a bit like it was a confession. "So did I, but they called me like I might now more than you, like we might be keeping a secret ... and I didn't have anything I could tell them. We all didn't have nothing to tell each other, we just waited ... We're all so happy to have you back, Scotty."

"It's 'cause of the pink cheeks, huh?"

Luis rolled his eyes, and appreciated the opportunity to scoff into Scott's shoulder when Scott hugged him.

And then Paxton came in to check what was taking them so long in loading the food into the fridge and freezer, and he brightened. First he called Cassie and Maggie. Then he dived. This was a big, big man, and he came for the two of them in a clinch that made Luis yelp and Scott long for the breath to do the same.

"Yes," Cassie said with breathless joy from the door, and then there were four. Maggie whipped out a phone to take a photo, and then she was there too, giving Scott a kiss on the cheek of a kind that he wouldn't have expected from her anymore. Almost on his mouth. Accuracy overwhelmed by relief and the fact that getting into the group hug right afterwards was more intimate anyway.

Scott's memory of how bright Maggie and Paxton's place was definitely also had a psychological component. So it was fine, because the way they showed up to see him, bringing Cassie too, meant bringing a little brightness back into his house arrest.


"No more popcorn," Scott observed.

He was the host. Luis wasn't here and Maggie and Paxton weren't Luis's guests anyway. Snacks were things that hosts took care of, and he was a sensible and responsible grown man who could live up to those simple responsibilities, even without the assistance of asking ants nicely. He and Luis had developed, in fact, into experts in keeping the kitchen stocked properly and dividing the cooking/cleaning jobs with fairness and maximum readiness for guests. Mostly it meant that Scott couldn't use up everything in the kitchen in tragic fits of boredom and Luis had to keep his social network at the friends-of-friends limit instead of weaving, and inviting over, ever more intricate webs every weekend.

But the point was, Scott could take care of it when his co-parents needed a little something to make their chill-out time a little more delicious. It was no less than they deserved on this kid-free night when Cassie was at a sleepover.

He began to heave himself to his feet.

"Hey," Paxton said, his voice sharper than it should be with surprise, and kind of grabbed Scott.

"Hey?" Maggie said as Scott collapsed back, even deeper into the couch. She sounded guarded, ready for action, which was exactly the kind of thing Scott had been hoping to avoid.

"Um. Snacks?" he said. "Since we're out. I was going to stick another bag in the microwave to facilitate continued vegging out."

"Glass of wine for me?" Maggie said.

"Oh. Sure, right. More popcorn, sure," Paxton said. "Uh-huh."

When Scott was standing in front of the microwave, watching the bag unfurling to its full popcorn-filled height, he remembered the sensation of being let go. It felt like he could have overlooked how it felt for Paxton's arm to squeeze around his shoulders in a reflex response to him getting up. The guy had been half asleep at the end of his work week, and probably vaguely dreaming that it was Maggie lurching up to her feet so suddenly. But the process of being let go so he could stand again ... it made Scott aware of the weight and warmth of the arm around him in the first place. It made the warmth too much of a full-body experience, all of a sudden. And he had to go sit down on the couch beside the guy, now, and keep watching the movie.

Scott ignored with great force all unnecessary sensations. It was nothing worth unsettling anyone's relaxation over.


"Ever think we were going to be here again?" Maggie said after the weekly family meal together. Their tradition was going strong, reinstated with his second return from prison and stuck to possibly more than before.

"Yeah, of course. There was no way I wasn't getting out of that place."

"No, I mean--" She waved a hand around at the kitchen. "Me washing, you drying."

"It does have some déjà vu to it, huh?" Scott said. He never brought up old-relationship stuff like that - that seemed like the simplest rule to have to avoid trouble. He didn't mind when Maggie did, though. Right now it felt bathed in the rosy warmth of nostalgia, rather than the sickly neon of inadequacy and old disdain.

"You trying to make my favourites. Sometimes giving in and expertly ordering my favourites instead."

"The cooking shows have not been going in my favour. I'm killing it at the magic tricks, though, I'm going to blow Cassie's mind in another couple of weeks."

Maggie grinned broadly. "Set up a show for us. And expertly order some of your own favourites, too, huh? Remember that one Mexican place you used to love, and we ate there all the time?"

"I can almost taste it right now," Scott exclaimed, groaning. He caught her in a one-armed squeeze, damp dish towel and all, and that sensation ended up having so many layers that he had his work cut out not overreacting. Jesus, maybe he did still miss Maggie like that. It wasn't just that he missed having anyone at all. And somehow it also reminded him way too much of that time Paxton had accidentally caught him in a clinch.

He wandered away, drying a casserole dish, to peek in on how Cassie and Paxton were doing in the living room, before he had to try and face whatever awkward situation he had created in the kitchen.


"Guys, you should have a date night," Scott said.

He shouldn't have said it. He was maybe a few beers in too deep. Or he would have just enjoyed the nice time hanging out with Maggie and Paxton.

Instead, he was sabotaging it. But he did have a point, if he said so himself.

"You don't have to keep coming and hanging out with me. Even if, and I admit it's a great incentive, order-in roulette has led to the wondrous introduction to our new joint favourite pizza place."

"Oh, buddy," Paxton said. "You're not just our diet cheat. It is nice hanging out."

"Isn't it?" Maggie said, a little too loud. "Because that's what I was thinking too!"

"But like, I know it can feel really rare. Those times when even the best little girl on planet Earth is away, and you can relax. You guys should enjoy that, too, just the two of you, if you want."

"No, see, it works out. We get our alone-time when Cassie's here for the weekend. And we get our Scott-time when she isn't with us or with you!"

Maggie was also a little tipsy, he realised. He stared at her unselfconscious grin where she sat tucked into Paxton's arm and smiled helplessly back.

Paxton cleared his throat. "Yeah, like that. It works out fine. You feeling it, being stuck?"

"Can't help but feel it, sometimes. But with all this flattery, it does start easing off."


A few months in, and there actually ended up being a grownup's sleepover. Maggie and Jim (yeah, OK, it was dumb to keep thinking of him as Paxton) couldn't drive home after the three of them had killed off a couple of bottles of wine, and getting a cab back to their place seemed excessive. Besides, Luis was also out for the weekend and wouldn't be disturbed by randomly having overnight guests.

Scott thought that was part of the reason they'd all overindulged a little in the first place. He wasn't feeling it too badly this morning - he'd definitely had worse headaches in his time - but he also felt like the real overindulgence was in the company. The other two could stay longer, so he'd just let them. And they'd acted the same. It would be easy enough, so they'd let themselves.

He imagined going upstairs. They might be a little overly snug in his double - he'd glimpsed a queen in their bedroom in passing. But they'd be couple-comfortable in his bed, they'd been together long enough for that. Did he want to see it? Why and why not?

He imagined going upstairs with breakfast in bed. Now that, that was easy. Waffles and golden syrup and butter, and that massive green mug Jim liked filled with coffee (milk, no sugar, right) and Maggie's blue mug filled with green tea. He was allowed to just sort of ... like that idea, right? It was friendly and a nice gesture, and all. And if he fried bacon with the waffles, it would be a good hangover breakfast if the other two needed it more than he did.


Another day, another funeral's worth of food.

"Oh, boy," Scott said in the face of a dish of lasagne that was easily a square foot big, preceding them at his gate.

"The chicken one," Jim said significantly.

"The one that's better than it has any right to be? Guess I'd better let you in, then." He waved them in and then gave their backs a long look. He could tell there were some nerves at work here - Jim didn't let much rattle him, he didn't think, but Maggie had a few obvious tells. He didn't think he'd seen her nervous of him, though. Maybe a few times when she was pregnant and had read up about health risks, but nothing less life-changing than that.

"We have a proposal," Maggie told him once they were barely inside. She was basically vibrating in place. Yeah, this was a nervous enough state he didn't even really recognise it, despite how ling they'd known each other.

Jim gave a gentle groan as Scott shut the door of the house behind him. "We were going to work our way up to it," Jim said. And he was looking around the house too much. It wasn't like they'd redecorated or anything, and he'd picked up because he knew they were coming over, so there wasn't too much of an air of bachelor living around the place, as long as you didn't delve too far in the upstairs areas.

"Yeah, but I was going to lose my mind, I'm pretty sure. So, let's get to it!" Maggie said. Her arms looked to be straining with the weight of the lasagne.

"Maybe at least we should sit down?" Scott suggested.

"We could head to the kitchen," Jim suggested. "Get, ah, get ourselves, get everything ready. For eating. Supper. C'mon, let's get to it! This stuff's getting cold!" And he went right there like he owned the place, or, more accurately, wanted to escape.

Damn it. If Jim was nervous, that had Scott sweating bullets.

But he also liked how Jim dived into it, once they were there. He did start the whole talk while aggressively getting plates and then continued while drying a third one, not looking at Scott or Maggie much, but he went for it.

And as he spoke, Scott thought, Enough food for a funeral, enough food for a wedding. Not that any of them were dumb enough to jump to actual marriage right now. But he sure was getting a hell of a proposal, here.

"Maggie and I have been talking. You know how we come here on what you remind us every so often should be date nights? Maybe they actually kind of are that. It's ... it's something we'd like to try out with you. You are a hell of a guy, Scott, and we both think... Well, there's a few really good reasons we like coming over here. But they're all you."

"I don't, uh, entirely know what to say," Scott told them. And thought way too much of the little thing of Jim moving around easily in his kitchen, having learned where everything was. "Except ... please sit down. I guess now we talk some more? Figure things out? But. Please. Sit down. Stay."

"We haven't made you too uncomfortable?" Maggie asked. "It's a lot to think about, I know, and with the history you and I have, too..."

"Oh, yeah, no, you have some way to go to make me uncomfortable. Let's gear this baby up. I ever tell you about when Black Widow drops by to tell Captain America awkward news about Iron Man? Oh, and then Hawkeye wants to have a drinking competition with her before we turn ourselves in, oh my god, the aftermath of that... There could be nothing, nothing more uncomfortable."

Maggie came up and wrapped her arms around him. There was a sense of relief to it in so many ways, from the slightly shamed feeling of finally living up to expectations to a simple release of tension, physical and emotional. And then Jim came into it too. Scott had to bite his cheek not to jump, because this wasn't anywhere near as familiar. But God, he'd remembered Jim's arm dragging him back to the couch with way too much clarity since the time it had happened. And now it was happening again, and would happen again.

He gave Maggie an extra squeeze, then Jim's hand where it rested on her back.

"C'mon. Like you said. We don't want the crazy-good lasagne getting cold."


Jim was the real hugger, though. He was really all about the hugging. Scott should have remembered it from that first day he'd been back; the signs had all been there already. But now it started in earnest, from the second he decided he felt good about his chances at three-way dating, and it escalated wildly from there. It was inspiring Scott to keep up his workout routine while trapped in the house, that was for sure. And to give the occasional grope at a bicep that crushed him close.

Maggie was the kisser. So far, it was maybe at a 3:1 ratio for whether it would be on the cheek or on the mouth. They were not rushing into anything. It was a kind of heavy decision to make in the first place, so never mind how he could feel a surge of surprise and pride whenever she looked at him with unreserved happiness, these days, he wasn't going to mess anything up by pushing that ratio.

Scott was trying not to be the sad sack. He managed it OK, he realised, right up until he transformed the house into a winter wonderland datescape. Why? Because clearly it was his life's goal to induct himself into hell.

"Glitter," Maggie said, a little faintly. "I thought I'd escaped glitter at last."

"You know Cassie spends time her too. There's never a real escape," Jim pointed out. "Oh man, the ceiling."

The glow-in-the-dark stars replicated the winter sky in the northern hemisphere. The scarves, theoretically, replicated the aurora borealis.

"I, uh, I was thinking you could have those. Afterwards. Maggie," Scott said.

Jim elbowed him. "Oh yeah? What do I get? All this glittery cotton-wool snow? Maybe the plastic reindeer?"

"It was almost a winter coat. But I don't know your size. And, thank God, I ran out of time before I could hide the bottle of whiskey. There was going to be an 'ice-fishing' game."

"Oh, honey," said Maggie, and gave him a kiss on the mouth.

"You can make it, buddy," Jim said, and also followed it up with a kiss. Those were more rare, and Scott immediately forgave his own dumb ass for this winter wonderland idea. "OK? I know house arrest is no picnic. But you're absolutely going to do it, and we're going to help every step of the way."

"Now, tell me there won't be a 'seal-hunting' game or something so we can eat?" Maggie said, pre-emptively wincing.

"You might be happy to know I overcame my one-man feud with Baskin-Robbins in order to get you ice cream for dessert," he said. "But otherwise, there was a really nice special advertised for takeaways at that Thai place you like, Jim..."