Two Months Later
It was mid-October, and for the first time that season, Southern California finally felt like fall. The morning air was just brisk enough to cause a chill, and the smells of summer had definitely faded.
Even though the temperature had changed, one morning ritual remained intact.
From the living room window, Mike could see Briggs and Jessie out on the ocean sharing a surf board, lounging in the sun and relaxing in isolation before the chaos of the day brought them back to reality.
Mike laughed to himself about how similar the two of them really were. He'd come to realize that the morning surf sessions were a chance for the two of them to bond, to talk about things that were important to them. It was therapeutic.
Mike was sometimes a bit jealous that he couldn't take Jessie out there himself to ride in some waves, but he knew that surfing was something Jessie enjoyed doing with Briggs (and he was still a bit fearful of having her out on the water with his less-than-spectacular surfing abilities).
On the rare (or not so rare) occasion that Briggs had pulled an all-nighter, Jessie knew she could wake Johnny or Jakes to escort her out into the waves for her daily morning routine.
Mike looked more closely at the two of them in the water. Briggs was sitting up with his feet hanging off into the ocean, and Jessie was lying on her back in front of him, her legs crossed on top of the board.
Mike jumped slightly, almost letting the coffee from his mug spill, when he felt a small kiss on the back of his neck.
He hummed when he realized who had snuck up behind him. "Mhmm, good morning," he said smiling. He turned around to lock eyes with Paige and greeted her with a soft kiss.
"Are they still out there?" Paige asked him quietly.
Mike gestured over to where Briggs and Jessie were in the ocean. "Yeah, they've got about ten more minutes before she'll be late."
"Give 'em five," Paige said.
Mike snickered at her. "They always make it on time," he reminded her.
He leaned in once more for another kiss, reaching around behind her to run his fingers through her hair.
"Oh, look!" Paige said, turning him back towards the glass wall. They caught a glimpse of Briggs and Jessie riding in a small wave together. "Pretty soon he won't have to hold her anymore," Paige said.
Mike shook his head. "Pretty soon she'll need her own board!"
"Are they still out there?"
Mike and Paige spun around towards the back of the house. Charlie was making her way down the stairs.
"Yeah, but they're coming back up now," Paige yelled over to her. She figured she'd get a start on breakfast and joined Charlie in the kitchen.
"I'm heading uptown for a case; want me to drop her off?"
"Yeah, sure Charlie," Mike replied. He could hear the pitter-patter of feet on the staircase that led to the deck and opened up the patio door to greet them.
"Good morning!" Jessie said, smiling up at Mike when she saw him. She threw her arms out towards him, but Mike took a big step back.
"Ehhh - you're soaking wet! Go get dressed! Did you pick out clothes last night?"
Jessie nodded at him and ran past him to the stairs. She was used to climbing the two extra flights each morning.
"Wetsuit in the tub!" Paige yelled after her.
When they knew that she was out of earshot, Paige looked over to Briggs. "Did you get the email loaded onto the computer?" she asked him.
"Yeah, I'll have her read it when she comes back down. We're probably going to need to explain it though."
"You think telling her right before school is a good idea?" Mike asked, following Briggs into the kitchen.
"She'll be fine, Mikey," Charlie said, pouring herself a cup of coffee.
The four of them peered out into the living room when they heard the front door shut.
"Long night, D.J.?" Briggs asked.
Jakes grunted and robotically walked over to the fridge, taking out some juice and yogurt. "Is she still here?" he asked in a low voice. "Did you tell her yet?"
"Just in time, baby," Charlie said to him.
"Yeah, and Mike's making omelets," Paige said.
Mike tilted his head at her and smiled. "I am? This is news to me..."
Paige put the frying pan down on the stove top. "You know you want to," she added.
She slid the carton of eggs in front of him and pleaded with her eyes. She knew she had won when she saw him flip open the carton with his free hand.
"Somebody else is really craving an omelet right now too," Charlie said, looking down at her stomach. Her bump was starting to show more and more each day.
Mike smiled at her and started cracking the eggs. "You sure you can take her?" he asked Charlie.
"Yeah, no problem."
"And I'm picking her up at three," Paige said.
"Mikey and I are running a reverse today. We've got to go pick up the-" Briggs cut himself off when he heard Jessie coming back down the stairs. She was holding a piece of paper in her hand.
"What's that, sweetheart?" Paige asked, lifting Jessie up into her arms for a morning hug.
"I can't do it," she said softly.
"Do what, kiddo?" Briggs asked her. He walked over to them and slid the piece of paper out of Jessie's hand.
"Oh, this does seem tough," he said. Mike looked over to Briggs with a puzzled expression and Briggs flashed the math worksheet at him.
"How about you and me go over it together at the table?" Briggs asked her.
Jessie nodded and Paige put Jessie down so that the girl could join Briggs.
"It's too early for math," Jakes said, his head in his hands on the table.
"It's kindergarten, D.J." Briggs chuckled.
Mike dished out scrambled eggs and omelets while Paige packed Jessie's lunch.
"So we have to color in six-sevenths," Briggs explained. Jessie nodded blankly.
"How would you draw six-sevenths?" he asked her.
Jessie shrugged her shoulders. Mike looked over at her, hoping she would be able to visualize what she needed to do in her head. Reading had seemed to come so easy for her, but they knew she needed a little extra help with math.
Jessie was terrified of school at first, but after a few days of getting to know the teacher and the environment, she had learned to fall in love with it. The agents had considered sneaking one of them undercover into the school building to keep an eye on her, but the staff convinced Paige that Jessie would be just fine.
Staring down at the homework sheet in front of her, Jessie looked defeated. They thought Jessie had given up when they saw her walk away from the table, but when the little girl stopped in front of the stone column next to the fireplace and looked up at the wall, the agents realized what she was thinking.
She kept her eyes on the chore wheel for a few seconds before running back over to Briggs. She grabbed the pencil and drew the chore wheel down onto the paper.
"So "6" sevenths..." Briggs reminded her. Jessie nodded and colored in all but one piece of the chore wheel.
"It's always six-sevens," she said. Jakes smiled at her minor mispronunciation.
"Because Johnny never does his work?" Paige asked her.
Jessie shook her head. "No the seven part is crossed out!"
The agents knew she was right. They had never taken the time to adjust the board when Lauren had been removed from Graceland. For the past year or so, they had shared the remaining duties between them.
"We've got to fix that, don't we?" Mike asked her. Jessie nodded and tucked the completed homework into her backpack.
"Good morning!" Johnny said jogging down the stairs. Jessie watched him carefully from the corner of her eye.
He stopped in the middle of the kitchen and crossed his arms. "You guys didn't hire a graffiti artist to decorate the house or anything right?"
His roommates all threw him confused glances.
"Oh, so no? You didn't? Really? Because I got home late last night and I go into my room..."
Jessie quietly ducked her head down and slid off the bench.
"And all across my chalkboard," Johnny continued, sweeping his arm out in front of him, "there are huge pictures of flowers covering up my notes about this new case!"
Jessie was now sitting under the table with her legs crossed in front of her.
"So you guys wouldn't know anything about that? Nothing?" Johnny asked playfully. He got down on one knee and looked under the table at Jessie. She could tell from his smile that he wasn't actually mad, but she still knew she had done something she shouldn't have.
"I'm sorry," Jessie said quietly.
Briggs scooped her up from under the table. "No more drawing over other people's stuff, ok?"
She nodded at him and continued to eat her breakfast.
Jakes leaned in towards her. "They probably weren't very good case notes anyway..."
"Hey!" Johnny yelled. "I heard that!"
"You'll wash it off later when you get home," Mike said to her.
"Charlie's driving you to school today and I'll pick you up after," Paige said to her. She looked over to Briggs, who was now setting up something on his computer.
"We have a little surprise before school though," he said. "Can you read this email?"
Jessie studied the laptop screen in front of her, unsure as to what they were talking about.
Within seconds, a smile was plastered across her face. "Today?!" she yelled. She snapped her head over to Paige and Mike for confirmation.
"Yeah!" Paige said cheerfully. "We've set it up with an agency in Ukraine. We are going to do a video call with Katia when you get home today."
"Thank you!" Jessie said running over to Paige. She threw her arms around the woman's legs and hopped a few times on her tip toes.
"We'll talk more about it on our way home later," Paige explained. She looked up at the clock. "You gotta go! It's a big day!"
Jessie put on her backpack and reached up onto the counter to grab her lunchbox.
"Just one more thing, really quick," Mike said. He was holding a small piece of tape that said "Jessie" on it in black permanent marker.
"I think you're right... it's time we've filled up that seventh spot."
Mike reached out to Jessie, who took the piece of tape off of his finger. She beamed a smile up to him. "Can you help?" she asked.
Mike picked her up and carried her over to the chore wheel, backpack and all.
"Right there," Mike said, "over the crossed-out part."
Jessie stuck down her name tag on the chore wheel and took a second to stare at the completed chart. She twisted around in Mike's arms to give him a hug and small kiss.
"Why does it say 'Better Mike'?" she asked him innocently.
Mike laughed at her. "I didn't want to be 'New Mike' anymore, so I fixed it."
"Now you really gotta start pulling your weight around here, kiddo!" Briggs said over to her.
"We'll help you," Mike said in her ear, "no worries."
He put her down and she took Charlie's hand, the two of them heading out to the car.
"She took that really well," Paige said after Jessie and Charlie had left.
"The wheel?" Johnny asked.
"No," Paige said shaking her head, "Katia. I thought it might make her upset."
Mike stood behind Paige. He snaked his hands around her hips from behind and rested his head on her shoulder. "She needs to know that Katia's ok. She's back with her family."
"And the FBI cleared the video call happening from Graceland?" Johnny asked.
"Yeah, we won't say too much about where she is," Briggs replied. "It was easy to arrange now that the case against Barone has cleared."
The agents had found out two weeks prior that they had succeeded in removing Jessie from Joseph Barone's custody. They had even managed to secure her the C.I. payment from the drug deal. They knew that guardianship didn't imply permanent residency, but they agreed to just take it one step at a time.
They still weren't quite sure how Jakes had managed to get the agency to agree on Jessie's placement back at Graceland, but they all thought his motivation may have come from his own experience of being adopted as a boy.
And even though Paige was technically Jessie's only legal guardian, the agents knew that they shared the responsibility equally, especially with another addition joining the house in the coming months.
Briggs, Johnny, and Jakes backed out of the kitchen and went upstairs when they saw Mike and Paige start to get intimate. Paige also had a feeling it was because the three of them didn't want to help clean up breakfast.
Paige turned around in Mike's arms and looked up into his eyes once more. "Anything else on the...?" she asked. She knew that Mike understood what she was implying.
Mike took a breath and shook his head. "I've had agents on it for a month now. Someone deleted Jessie's missing foster child report from the police system. I know it was Sid-"
"Or someone working for him," Paige added.
Mike nodded, "but I just- there's nothing to prove it!" He pulled Paige into a tight embrace and kissed the top of her head. "He's still out there, Paige. And we can't give up on nailing this guy..."
Paige wrapped her arms around his back and held on to him. "We'll get him, Mike," she said, partially trying to convince herself. "We won't let them get to her. Ever."
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