Chapter 10: Comfort and Joy – part 1
Resting his forehead against the cool Plexiglas of the fake window in his office, Shane gathered as much of his alien calm he could. Despite his and DiPhilipo’s best efforts, his lead project was two weeks behind, and Gibson had dumped another one in his lap. On top of that, the winter holidays were a week away, so half of his staff would be out. Although the thought made his blood pressure climb higher, he wouldn’t revoke his employees’ leave. They’d worked hard and earned it.
Stretching, Shane focused on his breathing and willed himself to relax. Unfortunately his preferred relaxation methods–sex and sparring–were unavailable at the moment. Picking up women at the bar was a chore, and Harris was downright insufferable. It was hard enough being civil to her for Jake’s sake. Since word had gotten out about his project, no one would spar with him at the dojo. He hadn’t even seen Eisen, his most challenging opponent, since the incident five years ago. Pansy.
When the tumblers in the lock clacked, Shane whirled around to see who of the handful with a key dared to invade his privacy. The door opened partially, and Jacob’s curly head poked in. Five year-old son or no, Shane’s temper flared. He loved his son, but the attachment left him vulnerable. He might as well paint a Jacob-shaped target on his back.
Jake’s bright smile faltered for an instant. He quickly recovered. There was no need to go through the oft-repeated conversation again. Jacob understood that Daddy loved him. Daddy hated the bad people who’d use Jacob against him, and it wasn’t Jacob’s fault. He had to be strong and smart like Daddy to survive.
“Hi, Daddy. Can I come in?”
Shane crossed his arms. “Once you’ve done the thing you forgot.”
Jake sheepishly drew his head back and closed the door. Three soft knocks resounded through the wood. His son’s voice was muffled. “Can I come in, Daddy?”
Shane couldn’t contain his grin any longer. “Yes, Jake. Come in.” Now that he was paying attention, he felt his son’s use of telekinesis on the lock. Pride swelled. Even if his father had been around, Shane doubted he could have picked locks at that age.
Jacob slipped inside, shut the door, and ran full tilt at Shane. When he was five feet away Jake leaped up and forward. Shane telekinetically pulled his giggling son to him, groaning from the effort. Jake threw his arms around Shane’s neck while he supported his son using his arms like a sling. “You’re getting too big for this, kiddo.”
“Uh-huh,” Shane countered. As he sat in his desk chair he felt something cool and smooth sticking out of Jake’s back pocket. “What’ve you got there?”
“A present!” Jacob bounced. After positioning himself in Shane’s lap, the boy pulled a pale, oblong cobblestone from his pocket and offered it to Shane.
Shane took it, examining it curiously. “What—?” He interrupted himself when he spotted the radial bar code screened on one of its flat sides. “Where’d you get this, Jacob?”
The boy grinned impishly. “Don’t worry, Daddy. They don’t know it’s missing.”
“Yep.” Jake nodded sagely, tapping his temple with one fingertip.
Satisfied, Shane resumed his inspection of the object. “Thanks, Jake. What is it?”
His son’s face screwed up comically as he recalled the answer. “A Verbal/Psychic Commitment Internalizing Device.” Shane’s eyebrows shot up, and Jacob giggled. “Makes ya keep your promises.”
Shane’s interest in the present tripled. “Huh. Where’s it from?”
Jacob shrugged. “Somewhere off-world.”
“Cool,” Shane murmured, mentally prodding the device. There was a power source and some solid-state mechanisms inside. He knew better that to try anything further. That’s what interns were for. “Has it been through testing?”
“Mm-hmm,” Jacob nodded. “I tried it, too. Watch this.” He wiggled his tiny fingers for the object, which Shane handed over. Since it has been through testing it should be safe enough.
Holding the artifact in both hands Jacob said solemnly, “The next time Daddy tries to tickle me I won’t squirm away.” Then he winced and set the stone-like object on his lap.
Shane was half amused and half wary from his son’s demonstration. He’d felt the sting of cold that had shot from the device. But Jacob wasn’t alarmed in the slightest, so Shane decided to follow through. He rested his fingertips of Jake’s sides. That alone typically sent his son shrieking and giggling away, but now he held stock-still. Shane wiggled his fingers, prompting a burst of laughter but no movement from his son. He tickled him for a full ten seconds. Despite tears of laughter in his eyes, Jacob didn’t budge.
Amazed, Shane hugged his son as he caught his breath. “This is quite a present, Jacob. Thank you.”
Gasping for air, Jacob managed, “You’re welcome!”
“What made you think to give it to me?”
“‘Cause you’re so sad and angry.”
Shane studied his son, bemused. “And how’s this… promise-keeper supposed to help that?”
Jacob gave him his best “duh” look. “So you can fuck Mommy.”
Shane’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. His mouth worked silently—much to Jacob’s amusement—for a few moments before any words escaped. “What… How… You shouldn’t say that word!”
“Why not?” Jacob asked, genuinely confused. “You and Mommy think it.”
Shane glared. “You’re not supposed to be in my head. Or your mother’s.”
Jacob stared back defiantly. “I’m not in your head… even though I could be.” He grinned the last. A deliberate pulse of anger from Shane wiped the grin from his face. “I wasn’t! You project when you’re sad or angry or horny.”
Ignoring how his face flushed, Shane asked, “Jacob, do you know what those words mean? ‘Fuck’ and ‘horny’?”
Jacob nodded proudly. “Uh-huh. To forn— um, fornicate. Horny means that you want to fu—” A sharp look from Shane prompted him to change his word choice. “—fornicate.” Shane nodded absently. “Why is the short word bad and the long word good?”
“Um…” Shane began. “It just is.”
“That’s a stupid reason.”
“It is,” Shane agreed. “Just don’t use either of those words, okay?” Although Jacob’s expression said how stupid he thought the notion was, he nodded. “Little boys aren’t supposed to know them.”
“I’m not little!”
Shane laughed. “Big boys, too.”
“That’s still dumb,” Jacob half-heartedly protested. “Fornicating is how you make babies. Animals and people and bugs and everything. Unless you do it in the lab, like you and Mommy did for me. Why shouldn’t I know about it?”
Shane sighed. Kids and their dumb/really good questions. “I don’t have a good short answer for you, kiddo. It would take hours to explain.”
The answer was good enough for Mr. Short Attention Span. “Okay. Tell me when I’m older.”
This time Shane laughed. “I will.”
“Good.” Jacob slid out of his lap, handed him the artifact, and met his eyes happily. “Take this to Mommy. You can make promises so you’re safe and you can… you know. ‘Cause mommies and daddies are supposed to ‘you know.’ And then we’ll all be happy.”
Despite his lingering unease with the entire conversation, Shane found himself smiling. “You’ve got this all figured out, huh?”
Jacob grinned and nodded, making his dark curls bounce. “Uh-huh. Bye, Daddy.”
Shane watched his precocious son scamper out. If only it were that simple.