When, The Olive Branch



    If David Munson had been a fish, his gills would have been three shades of green; as it was, he stood at Union Square’s center, Will on one side to keep him from hitting his knees, and Aisha on the other. An air car zipped past on Powell, heading toward Market Street, the whine of its engine lingering behind for a blink or two. He glanced up and then over his shoulder, and took a deep breath, finally relaxing.


    It was his first breath of freedom in five years. 


    Finn—the elder Finn, now of this When—exited the lab, waving the phone he held in his right hand, and he practically skipped his way over.


    “They’re on the way, Dash. Everything else is set. The apartment is nearby, furnished, and stocked. If he doesn’t like the food, I’ll take him shopping.”


    “Bank account and ID?” Will asked.


    Finn nodded. “If he manages his money well, he’s set. Drew is finalizing proof of identification, and if he chooses to work, there’s a position available with Ozoo. Entry level, but with room to advance.”


    “Ozoo,” David repeated.


    “Andrew’s tech company,” Finn replied. “Name anything with a computer, or medical equipment, and he’s either invented it or vastly improved upon it. You should see—”


    “And not relevant at the moment,” Will said before Finn could ramp up. “We need to get him settled before worrying about work, and ideally he won’t need to.”


    David turned a bit, eyes searching the skyline. “I’m not sure what I expected, but not this. Nothing’s changed since the last time I was here.”


    “Are you sure about that?” The soft voice came from behind. As he turned away from the lab entry, she smiled, moisture gathering at the corners of her eyes though there were no tears. “I don’t imagine I look the same.”


    David spun on the balls of his feet, and his mouth dropped open.


    Ever elegant, Aubrey was well into her eighties, her dark hair gone silver, fine lines etching her face. The hands that reached for her brother’s were slim; fingers creased at every joint and knuckle, her skin appearing thin and far more fragile than it truly was. When she had his hands in hers, squeezing gently, Jax stepped up from behind her and acknowledged him with a curt, “David,” but he was too busy searching his sister’s face to look at the former king.


    “My god,” David breathed. “Aubrey.”


    Hundreds of questions thundered in his brain at once, but instead of speaking, David Munson broke. He burst into tears and sank to his knees, still holding onto her, and only managed to squeak out one thing.


    “Jesus Christ, I am so sorry.”



The day began with David chained to a chair in the center of a brightly lit room that smelled of corn chips and root beer. He had several inches of movement but could not stand upright, and if he attempted to run hunched over, the chair would follow. Presuming he could outpace the guards that stood to either side and a foot behind him, just beyond the door were several of the royal guard. He wouldn’t get his nose past the threshold.


He'd expected Red and Jax; it was the Emperor’s presence that caused him to tense. His jaw clenched and legs tightened, yet his hands remained relaxed and he did not grip at the arms of his chair. His head turned so he could see as Red and Will reached for chairs lined against the wall, and he craned his neck to see the guard to his right, who stiffened when Commander Soto, head of the royal guard, loomed in the doorway and ordered the room cleared.


The guard to David’s left twitched, ready to step out, but the guard to the right stood fast. His eyes tracked from the Commander to the King and his pupils widened, but his orders had been to stand fast, and he was not under her command.


The King was another matter.


He stepped up to the guard, uncomfortably close. “Clear the room. From this moment on, the responsibility of his security falls to my guards.”


“A single guard, sir?”


David snorted. “The Emperor is here, Morrison. He’s all they need. I’m not going anywhere, and they won’t do anything to me.”


Jax stepped aside and gestured to the door. “The Emperor is not who you need to worry about,” he said as the guards left and Soto closed the door behind them. “Now, Wick? He’s got teeth.”


He’s not lying. I’ll bite a bitch.


Will and Red dragged a long, narrow table away from the far wall and placed it directly in front of David Munson. They lined the chairs along the side opposite from him, and as Red scooted the last one in he asked, “Are you sure about this, David? Once we let the reporter and her cameraman in, everything you say will be on record. She’s not here to interview you, per se, but she is witness to whatever conversation we have.”


He gave a slight nod. “I won’t embarrass you, Red. Well, no more than the fact that I’m sitting here in jail, chained to a chair.”


Jax nodded toward the door; Will opened it, gesturing for the reporter to come in. “David, this is Emma Wool from PMF News. And from this moment on, we’re being recorded.”


“Floridian witness,” Red added, “but officially from the news outlet.”


David’s impulse was to stand; it was something he could quell in presence of the King of Pacifica, his brother-in-law, but not when a woman entered the room. He made it six inches when he ran out of chain slack, apologizing when he had to sit down.


“We’re not standing on ceremony today,” Jax said. “Will, unlock those. There’s no need to keep him strapped to a chair. It’s not as if he can go anywhere.”


The reporter’s eyes widened and she twitched as if she wanted to step back.


For her benefit, as he unlocked the shackles, Will said to David, “There are guards just outside the door. Security cameras in every corner of the room. One signal from me—”


“I’d be more concerned about what you would do to me, Emperor,” David said. “I have no doubt you could pop me like a little meat balloon before I could get two steps toward the door. I’ll behave.”


Set me down. I want to stare daggers at him.


“You brought the cat,” David mused when I sat on the table directly in front of him. “Should I worry more about him?”


“He won’t bite,” Red said.


Yes, I will.


“Oh hell, yes he will.” David bent until his face was in front of mine. “Hyrum tells me you’re very protective. But you’re also very gentle with him and make him feel safe. I won’t give you a reason to feel as if you need to defend your King and Emperor.”


Good to know.


He held his right hand out, offering me a chance to sniff. “Is it all right if I pet you?”


I rubbed against his hand and allowed him to scratch between my ears.


“Are they going to stand there all day, Wick?” he asked. “Or is this a courtesy standoff? No one sits until the King does, but the King doesn’t sit until the lady does? Or do they want me to have to look up their noses for the rest of the day?”


Jax slid a chair out, while Red held the reporter’s chair. She did not sit until after Jax did, and Will specifically waited until Red was near his.


You should see Jax and Aubrey. They have sitting down to an art. Her ass hits the chair less than a second after his does. They even practiced.


“How often do you hear from Hyrum?” Red asked. “I wasn’t aware he’d been given your video—”


“Letters,” David said. “Once a week, without fail. He doesn’t bother with digital messages, he sends honest-to-god handwritten letters and ends every one with his full name. ‘Love, Hyrum Charles Blackshear.’ If he ever stops doing that it might break my heart.”


“I don’t think your mother is as happy about it,” Jax said. “The name, in any case.”


David gave a light shrug. “It took me aback at first, but damn, Jax. When he explained how happy he was to have a daddy who actually loves him? He could go by Chuckie B and I’d be thrilled for him.”


“Change of heart?” Red asked. “You haven’t always gotten along.”


David gestured to the room. “I’ve been gifted the space and time to reconsider my past actions. I’m finally getting to know him. And the real him, not the infantilized version Dad forced on us. Forced on him.” 


He rested his arms on the table. “I know why you’re here, Red. Jax can’t release me. You know he can’t.”


“It’s not entirely up to me,” Jax said. “The Supreme Court has a say in this.”


David shook his head. “It can’t happen. And you know it.”


Red seemed dubious. “You don’t want out.”


“No, I want out. I want to go home to my wife, see my kids, my grandkids. Find a way to make everything up to them. But Jax can’t ask the court for my release because the precedent is unfathomable.”


“You didn’t kill anyone,” Red reminded him. 


“Not personally. But I was complicit in the attempt on your life. I was aware of plans to eliminate the Second Minister and I kept quiet. I tried to force Hyrum into my car for no reason other than I thought I could and didn’t believe he would use his powers on me.”


None of those, Red argued, were crimes that invited a life sentence. Not in Pacifica. He allowed that in Florida he would have been executed for his attempt to overthrow the church, which was why he was jailed in Pacifica, to save his life. His sentence had never been formally pronounced, and he had never been given a trial.


“But I agreed to this. And even by Pacifican law, I committed a death penalty offense.”


“Pacifica doesn’t have the death penalty,” Red argued.


“They do when it comes to the King. And I imagine King Eli is still, by law, considered to be the king. I could have given warning that certain members of the Quorum were planning his assassination. Hell, Red, I could have stopped all of it with one phone call. And I didn’t. You know all of this. We’ve discussed all of this.”


“True, but I also know you’re quite repentant.”


“My level of repentance doesn’t matter. Especially not for the reasons you want me out now. I get it, Red, you want to send Dad’s legacy up into flames to give the church a new foundation to build on, but at what cost? The truths of Levi Munson were exposed on his last Thanksgiving broadcast and shored up by his trial. The world already knows. There’s no point.”


“The surface was barely scratched.”


David glanced at the reporter. “Off the record for now? Am I allowed that much?”


If David cared what she thought, her glare would have made him backpedal, but Jax nodded and ordered the camera turned off. The light on top of it winked out, but Will went to the cameraman, double checked, and then set the camera near Red’s feet.


    After Will sat, David went on. “Have you asked our sisters what they think? Do they want every single person in Florida to know what he did? Jesus, Red, their husbands didn’t even know until that trial. Ruth? You know what Galen did.”


    Red nodded. “He petitioned the Quorum for separation and the right to take another wife. And I denied it. If he wants to leave, he can damn well stand in front of a tribunal and confess that he considers the horrific abuse of a little girl to be the same thing as her willing participation and beg the elders for the right to move on. And were he granted that right, he would still have to support her for the rest of her life.”


    “I’m sure that went over well,” David grunted.


    “He came around.”


    “At what cost? Is she happy? She lives with a man who thinks of her as unworthy. How is that him ‘coming around?’”


    Their sister did not live with her unhappy husband; Red made sure that he moved from their family house to a guest home in the back yard, and made sure he continued to support her financially, but he refused to grant a true separation. He made the vows, Red argued; he would adhere to them.


    If their fellow church members knew, it was by Galen’s choice.


    “I still don’t see the point. Dad’s gone, the church knows who and what he was. Stop picking at scabs, Red. None of us will heal if you keep at it.”


    “He killed his own father, David.”


    At that, David snorted. “Like that’s a surprise. But don’t do this. Don’t drag our sisters’ pain into public for every sniveling idiot to gossip over. Don’t do that to Hyrum.”


    “He’s wholly in favor of it.”


    Quietly, “Please don’t do that to Hyrum. There’s not a chance he understands how overwhelming the masses can be. Not when it comes to something like this.” He took a beat, staring at the table instead of his brother. “I miss my family. I’d give almost anything to see my wife and kids again. But I’ll stay here, in solitary, for the rest of my life if you back off and just let Hyrum be happy. Please. I owe him that.”


    Will turned to Jax and asked, “Well?”


    “He’s telling the truth.”


    And now he’s confused.


    “Truthfully, I can’t ask for your release,” Jax went on. “I can’t even ask that you be moved into the prison population.”


    “I don’t want that anyway.”


    Red twitched. “Why? You’d rather stay in a city jail, locked into solitary?”


    “I’d rather stay alive,” David said evenly.


Will nodded. “General population requires moving him to a federal prison, where he is far less protected from retribution by friends of Levi Munson. He’s safest here, under the watch of the royal guard.”


    “And relatively comfortable,” David added. “I have a bed, not a cot or a slab. I’m treated decently, like a person and not a number. I have access to all the reading material I could ask for, my own TV with some access to the Internet, and Aubrey has generously kept my commissary account funded, so I have decent meals. Snacks, too. Pacifica has incredible candy bars. Until I landed here, I couldn’t have told you what a simple thing like buying your little brother’s favorite candy once a week feels like. How many years now? I still grin like a ten-year-old.”


    I’m telling Hyrum that. He’ll giggle.


With a sigh, David told the reporter she could go back on record, ask him anything she wanted. Once the camera was on and recording, she pretended to give weight to what she wanted to say, but truthfully, she only asked what they wanted her to.


“You have the platform now. And you’re aware of what your brother wants to do. Why not grab the chance for freedom for no reason other than exposing your father? If the King deems you worthy of release, surely the court will follow.”


He held onto the notion that the law shouldn’t bend because his sister was the Queen, or because his brother was the First Minister of the Church of Florida. “Look, the only things people need to accept as truth are that my father was evil wrapped in human skin. He enjoyed torture and torment, he abused his kids and his wife, and he sold his followers package after package of lies. My father didn’t just think he was God’s mouthpiece. He thought he was God, literally God, here on Earth, and that he was allowed to fulfill any whim that skipped through his brain. You’re from Florida? What are the language constraints here? How graphic do you want me to be?”


“Be as graphic as you need,” she said.


David leaned forward. “Levi Munson fucked little kids and didn’t care about the damage he inflicted on them. He fucked women who were not his wife, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there were men, too. He made sure his path was clear from anyone who might get in his way, and the body count is significant. He had no moral code, loved no one, and God help anyone who dared to tell him he was wrong.”


“The irony—”


“I know. All of that, and yet he raised his children to believe in God. But he was never of God. He killed his own father to get to the head of the church. That’s all anyone needs to know about him, and the last thing I’ll publicly say about him. The church membership needs to pay attention to the things Red is telling them and embrace the direction he’s heading, because if I learned one thing growing up? Red doesn’t lie. He will always be truthful about the church and his own relationship with the Lord.”


“Will they accept that?” she asked. “Coming from his brother?”


“The brother who turned away when others wanted to kill him? The one who wanted his position in the church? Why would I lie? I hated Red’s grip on the truth when we were kids. Hell, I hated it as we grew. But I damn well appreciate it now.”


“David,” Red sighed.


“No, that’s it. That’s all I’ll say on record. That’s all that matters.”


Oh, she’s pissed. I think she wants to jam that camera up someone’s asterisk.


Jax stood up. “I think we’re done here. He has the right of refusal.”


Reluctantly, she got up, bowing her head. “Your Majesty. Thank you for the time.”


When the door clicked shut, David added, “‘But fuck him for wasting it.’ I’m the him, by the way. Did you get what you wanted?”


Red nodded. “It’s a start.”


“I still think it’s pointless. And that wasn’t a lie, that’s all you’ll get out of me about this. I won’t rip my family apart just to get back at a dead man.”


    He really means it, doesn’t he? This isn’t an act.


    “Red. How’s Kaley? She writes, but…”


    “She’s fine, I promise. Joe and Spencer have taken over house maintenance for her. Your kids are very present in her life.”


    “I meant money.” David sounded small. “I don’t think I had enough saved—”


    “You don’t think we would leave our sister hungry or homeless, do you? She’s taken care of.” Red chuckled and added, “Dad left bank accounts stuffed with cash, David. Mom didn’t think twice. Before we even brought it up, she asked me to figure it out and make sure your family is well taken care of.”


    “He had money.” David sounded both surprised, and not. “Aside from the exorbitant salary.”


    “He had money, and we’ll leave it at that.”


“She says she’s forgiven me,” David said softly. “Kaley, I mean. I asked her to move on, file a petition and then find someone, but—”


“For better or for worse?” Jax asked.


David let loose a sad laugh. “That has no place in Floridian marriage vows, Jax. No promises of love, no honor. Definitely not for better or worse. Just…obey him. I want more for her. More for our girls. And Hyrum. Thank God he got away. Thank God he didn’t get in that car with me.”


“You wouldn’t have gotten far,” Will said.


“Still. Does he want to see me?”


    Jax had actively discouraged Red from bringing Hyrum to visit David in jail. He’d allowed correspondence, but worried about what it would do to Hyrum to be that close to his brother and not be able to touch him. He worried, too, that David would say something to upset Hyrum, which at minimum could lead to tears and at worst, he’d set something on fire.


    “He’s asked,” Jax admitted.


    No further explanation was necessary. David sagged under his dashed hopes, but he nodded.


    “Just tell me you mean him no harm,” Jax went on. 


    “I don’t want to hurt Hyrum,” David said. “I do want to apologize. I treated him like hell when we were kids and no better when we became adults. Holy hell, I thought he needed structure. That if someone just disciplined him, he’d be...better. I picked on him, endlessly. I need to apologize.”


    That could be done in a letter, or over video, Red pointed out. David swore he had, but he knew Hyrum believed in personal amends. “You have to say sorry,” he said, wistfully smiling. “It doesn’t count if you don’t say it face to face.”


    Jax looked at Will. “Chains on or off if Hyrum wants to visit?”


    Red looked horrified. “Off!”


    With a sigh, David bent to retrieve the chain from the floor, gripped a link in each hand, pinched, and didn’t take his eyes off Jax’s as the links flattened and the chains fell to the floor. “I could leave if I wanted, Jax. Chains, shackles, heavy doors…I could get past them all. But I don’t. I won’t.”


    “What the hell,” Red uttered.


    “You didn’t think Hyrum was the only one, did you? Hell, for that matter, you. Some little shit tried to throw a knife at you once and you grabbed that sucker in mid-air by the handle as easily as you could have plucked it off the table.”


    “How did I not know?” Red wondered out loud.


    “Mom. She knew when I was, eh, three? She made it damned clear that I couldn’t let anyone see what I could do, because Dad wouldn’t understand. It was my special thing, only between me, Jesus, and her.” With a chuckle he added, “Imagine my surprise when Hyrum set Dad on fire.”


    “Aubrey needs to know this,” Jax mused.


    “It’s not impressive,” David said. “Well, Hyrum is impressive. I’m strong, but he’s…he’s got such control. I know he could have cooked me like a human hot dog, but instead he chose to slap me in the face with a bad sunburn.”


    He’s a sparky sponge.


    “It’s not the degree of impressiveness,” Red said. “She needs to know because it might make a difference in her relationship with our mother. It’s tenuous at best and exists mostly because of Hyrum.”


    David’s eyebrows knotted.


    “Your mother also has a gift,” Will explained. “She can freeze things with a touch.”


    “I’ll be damned,” David uttered.


    “When Hyrum exposed her,” Red went on, “he also exposed her truth. She could have stopped Dad in his sleep. Just one hand on his chest, that’s all it would have taken. But she didn’t, instead she chose to—”


    “Mom’s not a murderer. She doesn’t have much of a backbone, but she wouldn’t kill anyone, not even him. Hell, if she had some innate ability, and she realized that you and I and Hyrum did? She kept me quiet, Red. She would have kept Hyrum quiet, too, if she could have. Killing Dad wasn’t the answer.”


    “There was no easy answer,” Red sighed. “But Aubrey suffered the most, aside from Hyrum. Mom could have stopped it, and that she didn’t is hard to swallow.”




    “You’re not your sister,” Jax snapped. “You don’t get to diminish the abuse she and Hyrum suffered at Levi’s hands. Aubrey fights against the pain every goddamned day of her life. And Hyrum is so scarred he refuses to even entertain the idea of a woman in his life.”


    “He’s certain he would cause a woman nothing but pain,” Red said, sadly.


    “You’ve told him that’s not true, right?” David asked.


    “He doesn’t believe it. He honestly thinks women love us so much they’ll put up with it, just for us. And he refuses to do that to anyone.”


    “Goddamn.” David spoke in a near whisper. “I just assumed he didn’t realize he could have a relationship. His limitations—”


    “Hyrum is not limited,” Will said. “He simply has his own path and walks it at his own pace.”


    David cocked his head a touch, looking at Will. “He tells me you’re a very good big brother. Did you really get on your hands and knees in a crowded public park to play cars with him? I have a hard time imagining that.”


    “Playing with Hyrum is not unusual for any of us.”


    “Including Eli,” Red said.


    “We didn’t play with him enough,” David mused. “Joe and Spencer tried, but they hit their teens…what the hell was wrong with us?”


    “We were kids, David. We didn’t understand.”


    His jaw set. “We were taught to not understand. And not by Mom. Jesus, Dad. If Aubrey had stayed—”


    Jax stood abruptly. “Will, with me. Leave Wick. We’ll be back in a bit.”


    Will dropped me into Jax’s chair and we watched them go, eyes on them until the door clicked shut.


    “What’d I say?” David asked.


    Red wasn’t sure. “Reacting to a what-if? Had Aubrey stayed, she would never have met the Emperor, then wouldn’t have met Jax. Our baby sister is Queen of the Pacifican United Kingdom, David. Her life now is significantly better than it would have been if she hadn’t run away.”


    Did you miss her?


    “I felt abandoned when she left. You had one foot out the door as it was, and it was like the only reasonable adult bailed on me. If I’d known why, maybe it wouldn’t have hurt as much.”


    “You realize I helped her.”


    David nodded. “I figured it out later. For years I honestly thought she had run off with the kid Dad wanted her to marry. I didn’t clue in until her wedding was plastered all over the news. How the hell could I not have known? When I thought about it, I knew she’d been in the news before that. I just didn’t click, that’s my sister. That’s not some random Aubrey who vaguely looks like her. She ran away and became a princess.”


    “And it upset you.”


    “Upset? Hell, she got away, Red. She wasn’t suffering with some guy who had no business marrying anyone. I sat in front of the TV as she got married and realized she’d gotten the fairy tale ending, and I wept. I felt selfish for all the years I was angry at her for leaving.”


    Red set his elbows on his table. “Why try to wrestle the First Minister’s seat from me, David? And why are you now professing all these insights?”


    “Because I honestly thought it should have been me. I did everything Dad asked of me, and I did it with the hint of a promise that when it came down to it, he wouldn’t go through with your second anointing. He let me go on thinking it was my damned birthright, and that nothing I did would be held against me because that damned anointing would be my get-into-the-celestial-kingdom ticket. I felt desperate after he died. Without it? I’m doomed, Red.”


    “You don’t need to be the prophet to receive a second anointing, David. Or even a member of the Quorum. I could have given you one, had I known.”


    At that, David flinched. “Dad said—”


    “Dad sold anointings for favors and cash,” Red said. “Ideally, only the worthiest receive them, but anyone I feel truly deserving will be offered one. It would take work on your part, true soul-wrenching repentance, but it was never outside of your reach. It still isn’t. Being complicit in the attempt on my life isn’t the same as killing me. The blood of the Second Minister isn’t on your hands.”


    “I didn’t stop anything, though.”


    “I know. That doesn’t put forgiveness out of reach.”


    “Why did he choose you?” David asked. “He knew I wanted to follow him.”


    “He knew I wouldn’t kill him.”


    You tried once, though. You were going to slit his throat.


    “And he thought I would.”


    Red nodded.


    “Yet it never crossed my mind.”


    “And it did mine,” Red admitted. “If not for fear of failure, I would have killed him. I had the knife in my hand, even.”


    “Huh.” David sat back, regarding Red differently. “Not for the job, I imagine. For what? Aubrey? Hyrum? Our other sisters? Mom? The gaslighting? Verbal abuse?”




    “Well, for what it’s worth… I glad you didn’t. Your soul is worth more than that, Red. I don’t think mine is. And this—” he jangled the chains “—is better than I deserve. Don’t push Jax into finding a way out for me. I leave here, I’m dead. It’s that simple. And I’m coward enough to want to live, even if I spend the next eighty years right here.”


    You’re gonna have to pee sometime, dude. You should at least want out of the chair.


    His eyes flicked in my direction. “You talk a lot, cat.”


    So I’m told.


    “You have no idea,” Red said. “Put him and Hyrum together, and the conversation can go on for an hour.”


    Just a reminder, I’m a biter, if I need to be.


    “I bet.”


    “It’s a shame Hyrum didn’t get another cat after Lazybones,” Red went on. “I don’t think it occurred to him he could.”


    “Could he have? Would Dad have allowed it again?”


    Red might have had the answer, but the door popped open and Commander Soto stepped in, turned sharply as she held the door, and announced, “Her Majesty and Prince Hyrum. Remain seated.”


    At that, David snorted, though his legs flexed as if he wanted to get up. Red got to his feet anyway and greeted Aubrey with a kiss on her cheek.


    Will was a few steps behind. “You’re free to stand, David.”


    Without saying anything, the moment David was on his feet Aubrey grabbed him into a giant hug, and Hyrum bounced on his toes, waiting his turn.


    Pick me up.


    Will scooped me up and held me close as he grabbed another chair for Hyrum.


    I think David understands me. Just a gut feeling. Where’s Jax? I think he could tell.


    “Jax,” Will said, as if speaking to Red and David, “will return shortly.”


    No one sat until Aubrey did, though I wasn’t sure if it was because she was the Queen or because she was their sister. Hyrum held the back of her chair as he often did, and then waited for Will to point to the new chair between her and Red before he sat down. He continued bouncing off his toes and wound his fingers around his t-shirt.


    “I won’t hurt you,” David promised. “Relax, Hy.”


    “I’m not scared. I’m excited!” He turned to Aubrey and gushed, “We got to hug David! It’s been forever!”


    She reached over and rubbed his arm. “It’s been too long.”


    Did you hug him the day Hyrum smacked him in the face with his sparky things? I don’t remember.


    “David,” Red started, “refuses to consider an appeal for release. He thinks things are better left alone.”


    “They are,” David insisted. “Look, you can do backflips to get me out, but I won’t help you expose every horrible family secret. The cost is too high.”


    “And if you can secure your freedom without helping?” Aubrey asked.


    “No. I got what I deserved, Aubrey. And I’m safer here.”


    “What about Kaley? And your children?”


    “They’re safer, too. I tried to rip the church apart. Worse, I failed. The people who were counting on me will never let it go.”


    Aubrey looked at Will. “Not everyone was caught?”


    “Lack of proof,” Will answered.


    “We’ll never know the extent of their reach,” Red said. “Members of the Quorum had followers of their own, and even in the absence of those people?”


    “They aren’t who I fear the most,” David said. “But that’s not really why. I don’t see the point in dredging everything up. His trial was enough. What he did to Oz was enough. No one thinks he was a man of God, not anymore.”


    “But he did so much more,” Red argued.


    It was Aubrey David focused on. “Do you really want the world to hear all the ugly details? I can’t even imagine how bad it was for you. But it’s not just you.”


    “I don’t care if they know about me,” Hyrum offered.


    “What about the girls?” David asked him. “Is it fair to tell their stories, too? Is it fair to Mom to have to explain over and over again why she didn’t leave him? Floridians will understand, but the rest of the world won’t. They’ll tear her apart for having stayed with him. Hy, you have the royal family to protect you from the worst people, but Mom and our other sisters don’t.”


    “We can protect them, right?” Hyrum looked past Aubrey to Will. “Can we?”


    “Not as well as they deserve,” Will admitted grudgingly.


    “You know he didn’t stop with family,” David said. 


    “That’s the point,” Red snapped. “Open him up to examination. Let the worms crawl out of the wood. Give people a chance to tell their stories—”


    “If we admit completely what he was and hint that we know he likely abused women and children outside of his family, there will be lawsuit after lawsuit against his estate. Mom would lose everything. The church would lose everything. None of it would happen under Florida law, Red. Hell, even from here I could lay the groundwork to prevent that fallout if the legal base was Floridian. But now? Everything would be tried under Pacifica’s laws. Florida law would use the church to protect Mom, but Pacifica favors the victims. And as bad as it sounds, as heartless, Mom is the one we have to protect.”


    “Fair point. But exposing him could help the church become more contemporary. We’re stuck two centuries back from the rest of the world.”


    “You’re trying to take something personal and turn it into an international incident, Red. It’s not necessary. You have the church and can steer it toward being better. If they listen to what I said earlier, they’ll accept your truth. What more do you need?”


    He needs his little brother.


    “You have your entire family, even if we are scattered.”


    I looked up at Will in time to see his eyebrow twitch.


    “Let it go,” David urged.


    “If I don’t want to?” Jax asked from the doorway. “If I want that son of a bitch flayed open for the maggots to find?”


    “With all due respect, Jax, it’s not your story to tell. It’s not even mine. But it is Aubrey and Hyrum’s, not to mention Ruth, Sarah, and Elle. Our mother. And the fallout would hit them, for no reason other than you despised Levi Munson and want to hurt a man who’s now nothing but dust and memories.”


    He’s actually a stone, now. Floating in the Pacific Ocean.


    “You’re not supposed to be the voice of reason,” Jax said. 


    “You expect my father when you see me. That’s fair.”


    Hyrum got to his feet. “You’re not Daddy! You’re mean sometimes like him but you never punished anyone.”


    “Unfortunately, I probably did.”


    Red held his hand up. “That’s not what Hyrum means, David. No, you never punished anyone.”


    “Daddy punished me a lot, and it hurt. You never did that.”


    David blinked, frowned, then blinked again. “Is that why you told me to bite the pillow?” David asked Hyrum. 




    “Stop,” Aubrey hissed.


    David stood abruptly. “I would never do that,” he said to Hyrum. “That was Dad being a monster. But I’ve done mean things, even to you. Now I have a ton of time to think about it all.”


    Hyrum latched onto his t-shirt. “You said sorry.”


    Softly, “Only in letters, and I know it means more to you in person. I was awful to you when we were kids, Hy. Awful even after I left home. But I am sorry.”


    “What about Jesus?”


    Tell him the truth, dude. Jax will know if you don’t.


    “I promise, I pray every day. But I haven’t asked for His forgiveness. I don’t deserve it yet.”


    “But you have to!” Tears rolled down Hyrum’s cheeks. “You have to say sorry. He knows if you mean it. You mean it, right?”


    “I mean it,” David said gently. “I’m just not certain I should ask forgiveness yet.”


    Hyrum wiped his arm across his face. “You did lots of mean things to me and I forgive you.”


    David reached out, leaning forward to kiss Hyrum’s forehead. “That’s because you’re good.”


    “Red?” Hyrum cried. “You can tell him it’s okay to tell Jesus sorry. Right?”


    “I can tell David that I’m certain he will be forgiven, but he does have to ask.”


    “Then ask!”


    “Buddy, I don’t know how.”


    Ask Red for a blessing. At least that will make Hyrum feel better.


    “Hey.” David’s voice was almost a whisper. “Pray with me. Red can guide us, all right? Will you do that? Pray with me?”


    Hyrum’s head bobbed as he turned to Red. “Can we? Can David have a blessing?”


    Will got up and gestured for Jax to follow him out; I sat on his warm, empty chair and watched as Red laid his hands on David’s head, as Hyrum and Aubrey linked hands with David, and I listened quietly to the low hum of Red’s voice, and then David’s. 


    I thought when Red lifted his hands that they were done, but he moved to Aubrey to give her a blessing as well, and then to Hyrum, leaving me to wonder who blessed Red.


    After the last “amen” they were quiet for a minute, other than Hyrum’s occasional sniff.


    Who gives Red blessings?


    “The Lord,” David said, so softly that neither Red nor Aubrey were certain he’d spoken.


    So God hops down from heaven for a little one on one with the prophet?


    “Wick,” Hyrum snickered. 


    I jumped from the chair to David’s lap. You know what I’m saying.


    He rubbed two fingers between my ears. “Little kitties with big ears. I miss having a cat, you know. My kids had a big brute of a cat, inexplicably named Juicy. He liked to lay across my head at night and sometimes I think he wanted to smother me.”


    I do that to Will. I don’t want him dead. Just annoyed.


    “Maybe someday you can have another cat,” Hyrum said.


    “If I could have one as interesting as Wick, I would enjoy that. I hope you’ll keep writing to me about his antics.”


    “Maybe Jax will let me see you again and I can bring Wick.”


    I can arrange that. I’m obnoxious enough that Will will bring us just to shut me up about it.


    Red opened the door to let Jax and Will know he was done. Before he was a foot into the room Hyrum blurted, “Jax can I come back to see David and bring Wick on account of he likes Wick and wants to play with him?”


    “Just say yes, sweetheart,” Aubrey suggested. “I think it’s time we began regular visits. If David is safe here, then it’s safe for us to see him. I would presume it’s also safe to bring Kaley.”


    David took a step back. “I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure I can see her and then watch her leave.”


    Jax ignored him. “What kind of visits are you suggesting?”


    “You know exactly what I’m suggesting,” Aubrey said. She looked at Will and added, “Make it happen, William.”


    You could make a safe house happen, William.


“What’s a safe house?” Hyrum asked.


    Will glanced at David, who didn’t seem to think twice about Hyrum’s question. “Ideally, it’s a place no one else knows about where someone can stay and feel protected. However, we’ve had a bad experience—”


    “There are other safe houses.” Aubrey was gentle, but firm. “Even safer centuries.”


    David grunted, “What?” while Jax sucked in a deep breath and asked her, “What are you proposing?”


    Her eyes twinkled as a mischievous grin formed. “David Munson dies in jail here. His grieving wife leaves Florida, relocating to avoid the pain home causes her. Dad’s followers can’t follow him to Will’s birth When, after all.”


    “And neither can Russia,” Red offered.


    “What about an anchor?” Jax asked.


    “Kaley, I presume,” Aubrey said. “Or we do for him what Jay did for his family for so long. Bring them home every few weeks to reset.”


    “You realize he’s here for some serious crimes,” Jax said, though he already knew he would do what she asked, because he also knew who was really in charge.


    Hyrum bounced on his toes. “And we could go see him and show him jetpacks and the bouncy place!”


    Dude…oh, Bounce. Not bouncy.


    “How the hell did we get here?” Jax asked Red. “We wanted to use him for propaganda, and now we’re relocating him into freedom two hundred years from now?”


    “What the actual hell?” David blurted.


    Will moved closer to him. “You know what Hyrum can do, what you can do, and what your mother and brother can do. I assume you’re open-minded enough to accept that there are people who can do other things as well?”


    David nodded.


    Without asking, Will set his hand against David’s neck, closed his eyes, and fed a stream of information into David’s mind. He squinted at first, unsure, but instead of panicking and trying to pull away, his eyes went wide and he grinned, and for a moment I thought he was going to start bouncing on his toes along with Hyrum.


    Of all the things he could have latched onto, he picked the one I thought would skip right past him. When Will started to let go, David grabbed his hand and held it there. “You’re my nephew? Well, removed a few times, but still.”


    “Aubrey is my great, great grandmother, so yes, we’re related. But the point remains, is this something you would want to do? Leave here for my birth When, and live there?”


    “He’d still be guarded,” Jax cautioned.


    “But he’d also be free,” Aubrey said.


    David let go of Will and looked to Red. “You’ve been there. Mom’s been there?”


    Red screamed like a little girl, according to Will.


    Oh, and you might as well tell them you understand me. Hyrum does and he can hear all this.


    David sat down, hard.


    “You can talk to Wick?” Hyrum asked.


    “I need a minute, buddy,” David said.


    While he collected his thoughts, Jax told Will to get the ball rolling. He’d not only need a place to stay, but a source of income, and someone to help him transition into a future sort of life. “A security detail as well,” Jax said just before Will tapped his jump bracelet and disappeared.


    “Holy mother of—”


    You’ll get used to it.


    I jumped from the chair onto his lap again and rubbed against his arm. This is how you redeem yourself, dude. It’s the gift of a do-over that you accept with grace, and take the chance to be a better man.


    Hyrum gripped at his t-shirt. “Oh, you’re mad. I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to make you mad.”


    “I’m not.” David’s voice wavered a bit. “I’m a little overwhelmed, Hyrum. That’s all.”


    “You want me to go with you?”


    “Wait, what?”


    “I’ve been there and maybe you won’t be scared if I go with you and help you get used to it.”


    David was going to say no, I could feel it. But Aubrey reached over to rub his shoulder and said, “We’ll all go. There are a few things there I wouldn’t mind doing.”


    With a giggle, Hyrum told David, “There are really big drinks there and she likes the slushie one. Oh! We can show him the castle!”


    “The castle,” David repeated.


    “Zed is building it now but it’s real there! It’s a school!”


“All right,” Jax sighed. “So. We lose his position in peeling back your father’s layers.”


“That was never what it was really about, though, was it?” Aubrey asked. “David is right. The world already knows.”


Jax gave a bare nod. “Fine. Then what was it about?”


“Unity?” Red guessed. “Restoring balance to…something?”


“Petty bullshit,” Jax said, laughing.


“Peace,” Aubrey said.


“Loving David,” Hyrum said. He had tears in his eyes and clutched at his shirt. “If we love David, we can let Daddy go for real. David isn’t bad like Daddy but I think Daddy wanted him to be.”


“What do you mean, Hy?” David asked.


He stumbled over the words, but his point was clear. Levi created molds for his sons and attempted to shove each of them into one. He wanted Red to follow him and nudged him in all the directions he needed to go in order to one day take the Second Minister’s seat. He raised David to be another Levi; hard, ambitious, and mean enough that taking control of the church would feel natural if Red somehow failed.


“He even made you be a lawyer,” Hyrum reminded David. “He made Joe go to school even when he wanted to be a soldier and he made Spencer be the guy who goes places and tells people that Florida is the best place and they should listen to Daddy. And he made me feel stupid on account of he didn’t know what else he could make me. Daddy wanted you to be mean, just like he wanted me to feel stupid. He didn’t want us to love you.”


“Cowboy,” Red breathed.


“Daddy was loud and wanted everyone to be afraid of him on account of that’s how he could make everyone pay attention to him. He liked being mean. Daddy didn’t care if he was loved.”


“So we quiet down, stop taking about him, and let his memory die out,” Red said.


“I wanted people to know Daddy was a bad man, too, Red, but I think Jesus would be happier if we loved David instead.”


Stubbornly, Jax folded his arms. “Well. I might get to where I like him a little.”


Hyrum kneeled in front of David’s chair, resting his elbows on David’s legs. “I love you, David. And Aubrey and Red do. So does Jesus. He’ll wait for you to be ready to say sorry when you mean it. But like this, okay? Father Dan says sometimes you gotta get on your knees when you talk to Jesus on account of that says you really mean it.”


I felt the air stir a tiny bit, and Will popped back. He was in different clothes and his beard was thicker, which prompted Jax to ask how long he had been gone.


    “It took a bit longer than I anticipated,” Will said. “Two weeks. And there’s a change in plans. He’s heading for somewhen more familiar instead going two centuries forward.”


    Will had scoured his birth When for a safe and appropriate place for David to land, but even with a security detail—people who lived in that When—he felt less certain about David’s ability to find his footing there. 


    “I connected with James to ask how easily he had integrated. He believed he would not have fared well without George, and while he offered to help David and his family navigate that When, he believed the better idea would be to not leave him so far in the future. I had to agree.”


    “Then?” Jax prompted.


    He’d had another idea. Take David to a more familiar setting, where he would live near familiar people, someone who would care for and about him, someone to whom he could make amends.


    “Hyrum,” Aubrey murmured.


    “Me?” Hyrum asked.


    “Both of you,” Will said. “After I left James, I went to see the two of you” —he gestured to Jax and Aubrey— “as well as Oz and Drew. They understand the situation and given their ongoing access to a high level of security, they can provide guards. He would be thirty-five years forward instead of two hundred, which may make acclimating easier.”


    “And Hyrum?” Jax asked.


    “He’s excited about the possibility. His relationship with David ended under different circumstances, and he misses his brother.”


    “But he’s older—”


    “He understands how much younger you are,” Will said to David. “He’s aware of the circumstances. The learning curve is yours to embrace, not his. Your sister is there, as is Jax—”


    “The rest of my family?”


    Y’all might want to sit down for this.


    “Y’all,” Will repeated with a sigh. But he sat down, and the others followed. He explained about the war and how Florida ended, though most of his family were tucked away in Kansas when the final bomb went off. Some were not and died then. Others died in the years following. Still, he would not likely see those remaining, other than Hyrum.


    “And Bree,” Red said, softly. “I understand she’s close to Jax and Aubrey.”


    “And you?” David asked, hopeful.


    “They won’t tell me if I’m still alive or not.”

Will opened the bag and let the cat run free. “I am unaware of the extent of what Red was told in the previous When, but I’ll consult with Aubrey on that. If he’s aware, you’ll be able to see him as well.”


    “Is everything set, then?” Jax asked Will.


    “Everything but his consent.”


    “But my wife,” David said. “She’ll understand, but to pick up and leave? Our kids are adults, they have lives here—”


    “We can visit,” Hyrum said.


    People move all the time. You’ll all get used to it.


    “Life here, alone, locked in a room or life there where you’re essentially free and where you can be with Kaley,” Red said. “Your children will cope, David.”


    “But to never see them again?”


    Aubrey reached out to touch him. “We never said that, sweetheart. It’s not a one-way ticket to isolation. We wouldn’t do that.”


    “Please,” Hyrum murmured. “I don’t want you to be in jail for forever.”




    “No.” Hyrum sat up a bit straighter, a bit defiant. “You promised Kaley you would be a good husband and you can’t do that here. You have to go on account of it’s your job to be a man and protect her. That’s how you tell Jesus sorry. You do what you promised, David. You promised her and you promised Jesus.”


    “Be a man,” David repeated, softly.


    “Be a good man,” Hyrum insisted.


    David looked to Red. “Now that’s revelation, President Munson. I feel that as certain as I understand the opportunity being given to me.”


    “Is your belly burning?” Hyrum asked.


    His hand went to his stomach. “Right there, Hy. You are a tool of God, and I think you just fixed something broken in me.”


    Beaming, Hyrum squealed, “I’m a tool!”


    “When would we leave?” David asked Will.


    “You’ll go first. Your wife will follow, after we’ve had time to prepare her for this.”


    “How? How can you remotely prepare her for…time travel?”


    Aubrey’s eyes flicked toward Hyrum. “She knows what he can do. Has she seen it?”


    David shook his head.


    “Then we start with the cutest tool in the box. A quick demonstration, an explanation of the things Red does and I do, and then Will can feed information to her. Kaley is bright and relatively open minded.”


    “Relatively,” David snorted.


    “For someone who grew up under the church’s thumb, yes. She knows there’s more to life than cleaning house and raising kids. She’s pushing your girls to reach for more than the church will give them, David. She’s pushing their husbands. She’ll believe us.”


    And there’s nothing like jumping forward to prove it.


    There was a soft knock on the door; Aisha stuck her head in and asked, “Is everyone decent?”


    “Well, we have clothes on.” David rose from his chair, eyebrows knotting when Hyrum didn’t pop up.


She’s not a woman to him. Just Aisha. I don’t think he’s even noticed she has magnificent boobs.


“Cat,” David sighed.


“Finn is ready,” Aisha said to Will, who did get up when she came in. She held up her arm to show him her jump bracelet. “Date, time, and location are already set. He’ll meet us there and has everything needed.”


David leaned heavily against the table, color draining from his pink skin. “What, right now?”


“Do you have a reason to remain?” Will asked. 


“Freedom,” Red reminded him. “And we’ll see you again, I swear.”


“You’re coming?” David asked Aubrey.


“For now, no,” Will answered for her. “It would be best if she and Hyrum visited later. But you’ll see them.”


“Just like that,” he breathed.


“David, if you need time,” Aubrey started.


Hyrum jumped to his feet. “No. He has to go right now. So he can be a good man and say sorry to Jesus.”


He can say sorry in a week, dude.


“No. When you decide it’s time to say sorry then you do it on account of you might have an accident and die and not be able to. What if he doesn’t get to see Jesus after he dies? What if he goes to hell? He won’t see anyone there.”


“Well, there’s Dad,” David snorted.


“Oh. Yeah. Do you want to see him?”


“No, buddy. I mean, I’d like one last chance to take a shot at him, but other than that…”


Hyrum stepped around the table and grabbed David into a hug. “Don’t let Daddy make you want bad things, David. Go be a good husband like you promised. Go be good and say sorry to Jesus and someday you’ll get to heaven. And the real heaven, where everyone goes, not the one where only special people get to see Jesus.”


“Are you sure saying I’m sorry is enough?” David pulled back to look at Hyrum’s face. “I’ve been a bad man, Hy. I might not ever be sorry enough.”


“But we forgive you. If we forgive you, Jesus will even more. He’s not like Daddy, David. He’s not a raging dick.”


“Oh, lord,” Aubrey sighed, though I don’t think they heard it because David howled with laughter.


“You’ll come see me?” David asked.


Hyrum had been limited in his visits to that When; he looked to Will for the answer. 


“You’ll see each other frequently,” Will said. “Visits in both directions will be secured.”


I go there a lot. You’ll see me. I can take messages if you want.


David glanced over his shoulder, to the door that led to his room. “I just—”


“Your belongings will be collected and delivered,” Will said.


There was little he wanted. Only the drawings hanging on the wall, things sent by his grandchildren. There were books and photographs, but he especially wanted the letters Hyrum had written him.


“There’s a drawer filled with candy,” he told Hyrum. “You keep that. Share it with the kids, but the big bar? That’s just for you, all right? Be selfish and keep that one for yourself.”


I jumped onto Will’s shoulder and leaned against his ear, trying to speak softly.


He doesn’t believe anything will happen. Even though he saw you disappear.


“I am aware.”


He gave them a few more minutes, waiting as Aubrey promised to explain everything to Kaley and their mother, and when it seemed as if they were rambling on because they were afraid to stop, Will asked Red and Jax to move the table away, and he reached for David’s hand. Aisha held her arm out to him, and before David could flinch away, Will tapped her bracelet, and we winked onto Union Square.




Old Hyrum pumped his fists in the air, bouncing on his toes, and he shouted “David!” loud enough to scare three pigeons and the cat who was about to pounce upon them. He raced across the Square and when David didn’t get up, he slid the last few inches on his knees and came to a stop by throwing his arms around his much younger older brother.


“I missed you!” Hyrum squealed. “Last time I saw you, you were dead!”


“Dead?” He didn’t let go of Hyrum, instead resting his forehead on Hyrum’s shoulder. “Hy, I am so sorry. So very, very sorry.”


“Why? You didn’t die on purpose. You got hurt in the war. But you didn’t die then, you lived for a couple years and I got to see you and you said to me, ‘Hyrum, don’t tell anyone, but I liked you most of all.’” He put his mouth near David’s ear and whispered, “I told Aubrey but I figured that was okay.”


How is Hyrum not in pain? He’s eighty, right? He just slid on the ground like Rhys and the twins do.


Instead of answering me, Will tugged on my tail.


“I was a horrible brother to you, Hyrum. I’m sorry about that. I need you to know—”


With a giggle, Hyrum set his forehead against David’s. “You said sorry before you died. And you said I was the best man you ever knew. Then you cried and I gave you a candy bar and said it was okay on account of you tried to be good and helped end the war.”


David’s head jerked and he looked to Aubrey. “I did what?”


Will reached down to help them up. “Hyrum’s history, Aubrey’s history, is vastly different in this When. Here, the war was somewhat protracted, and in its last years your counterpart provided intelligence to Pacifica.”


“You told us where Levi would be on that last day,” Jax said. “Despite knowing you would be caught in the blast, unable to get far enough away to avoid injury, you provided the exact location that allowed us to finally stop him and end it all.”


“Then he did none of the things—?” David looked pleadingly to Will. “Red’s shuttle. King Eli. None of it?”


Will shook his head. 


“Clean start, sweetheart.” Aubrey kissed his cheek, her hand lingering on his shoulder. “Will has told us about you, but I hope you know, the man you were is not the brother we lost. But you could become him.”


“How?” He choked on the word.


“You,” Will said, “are not their David. But neither am I their Emperor. That man died at forty-two. Yet, these are your brother and sister, directly. They are the people you just left behind, and they’re offering you sanctuary.”


With guards.


“Guards,” he sighed. “I’m not going to—”


Will held a hand up. “For your own protection. This is more for your personal security than a limit to your freedom. While we can reasonably assume that your safety has been secured, we cannot guarantee it.”


You won’t even know that they’re there, dude. Look around. I bet you can’t spot Aubrey’s guards.


He wanted to know how many years past the war their David had lived. Before Aubrey answered, Will said, “Your death in your own When will be well timed. Time will note your absence as predicted, I hope, which may ease your transition. If not, if you cannot anchor to this one, you’ll be escorted home every few weeks long enough to recover.”


“Home,” David repeated.


“Someone will escort you through a portal located in the upper level of the royal home,” Will said.


Even I can do that. Though I might make you wiggle through the little one in the closet. How limber are you?


“Kaley,” David said.


“Give Will a week or two,” Aubrey said. “She’ll need time to adjust to the notion of leaving Florida, not to mention entering a new decade.”


“We may not keep this entirely linear,” Will said. “Regardless of how long it takes to prepare her, I’ll bring her through in a week. That gives you time to begin his transition.”


“Why are you doing this?” David asked Will. “I understand why my sister and brother would protect me, regardless. But why you?”


You’re still family.


“Indeed. We’re family. And until all the rips in the fabric that binds this family together are mended, there will be no peace. While I am not particularly troubled with your comfort or state of mind, I am where my great, great grandparents and Hyrum are concerned. In any When.”


Become the David Munson of this When, dude. Deserve this.


“Then you need to know the full truth, Emperor. About my father’s last days. His death. It may change your mind.”


Will scowled. “We are aware of how he died.” 


“But not who was responsible. It wasn’t Russia. He was in their pocket, yes, but they didn’t have him killed.”


Will glanced at Finn, who gently guided Hyrum away, whispering in his ear. “Explain,” he said, when Hyrum was several feet away and giggling at whatever old-man Finn had said.


“His trial? It gutted me, Emperor. He got off easy, and while I respected Aubrey’s steel and strength in standing before the court to request he not be executed, I disagreed. It wasn’t just everything he had done to Oz, it was…everything. He stooped to levels I still can’t imagine.”


“You did not kill your father,” Will said.


“Not personally, no. But I gave the order. Well, the suggestion.”


Levi Munson had strategically placed, loyal players all over the world. But those closest, the men he relied upon to keep his hands clean, were Floridian and their faith came first. They acted on his orders in the belief that he was guide by the Lord, even when told to engage in tasks that were clearly illegal and immoral. After all, God had ordered human sacrifice before; surely he still could.


“All it took was the moment Dad uttered the words ‘I am God’ on his last broadcast. After that, I only needed to hint that it was just a matter of time before a man as weak as he was would begin to name names. And wasn’t it a shame that he wasn’t turned over to Florida to face the punishment we all knew God wanted for him. No one, and I stressed that, would blame anyone who saw to it that he came to the justice he deserved.”


“You did not kill your father,” Will repeated.


“But I am responsible.” David’s hands were clasped behind his back, and his head bowed. I couldn’t tell if this was contrition, if he was praying, or hoping Will couldn’t see some gleam of pride in his eyes. His next words were a whisper. “He’s dead because of me. And I’m not particularly sorry.”


No one is, dude. But that was a tad harsh, don’t you think? They hung him by his ankles and slit him open.


“Wick,” he breathed. When he finally looked up, I saw why he had bowed his head. His eyes were filled with tears and pain. “I know. And I should care, but…”


It’s not like anyone was all that upset over it.


There was a song, even. I heard it being sung in the background on a news broadcast.


“A song.”


Ding dong, the dick is dead…


I’m not even kidding, bro.


“You can change your mind about this, Emperor,” he said to Will. He turned to Aubrey and added, “You, too. I can’t hold you to this.”


She set her hand on his cheek again. “Sweetheart, I know you’ve done awful things. I also know you won’t repeat those things here.”


“How can I answer for them?”


Hyrum skipped back over. “Answer for what?”


“Sins,” Aubrey answered for him.


“Oh! I know how.”


“I need to do more than say sorry, Hy.”


Hyrum set his hands on his hips and looked at David like he was a wayward child. “Duh. I’m gonna take you to meet Father Eyeball.”


“Ibata,” Aubrey corrected, gently but amused.


He ignored her. “Father Ibata knows lots of things about Jesus and how to be a good person. And Father Dan is still there and he’ll help you, too. Oh! And I know a rabbi who loves to talk to people but you gotta know, she talks and talks and talks and talks, especially when you’re there to turn her lights on and off and make dinner for her.”


“Hyrum knows half the damned city,” Jax said. “If there’s someone who can help you truly repent, he’ll get you to them.”


“Truly repent,” he murmured, mostly to himself. “If I don’t? If I can’t change my ways?”


They have the death penalty here, you know.


“Wick, they do not.” Will tugged on my tail again. 


Hyrum put his arms around David’s waist, setting his head against his older brother’s chest. “We’ll protect you. And I’m older than you so you have to do what I say and I’m gonna tell you to be good.”


“What if I’m not?” David asked him, quietly.


“You will be on account of we love you and that makes everything better.”


“I thought donuts made everything better.”


“We can have donuts, too.”


We left them on Union Square like that, with Hyrum holding onto his younger older brother, promising him happiness and junk food, and we jumped to home, where our Aubrey and Jax waited with Hyrum and Red.


“I don’t think he feels as if he deserves this chance,” Will said.


“He doesn’t,” Jax grumbled. “But if we didn’t give it to him, what would that say about us?”


“That we enjoy the petty bullshit,” Red said. “Just promise me I’ll see him again.”


“We’ll visit,” Aubrey promised.


Just don’t spend three days screaming like a little girl.


“I didn’t,” Red insisted.


Will raised an eyebrow. “You did.”


“I may have invoked the name of the Lord.”


“Said as he spun about, eyes wide. ‘Oh my god’ and ‘Jesus’ on repeat. For three days.”


“Not that you’d exaggerate.”


Stop teasing. Look.


Hyrum had dropped into a squat, and he rested his nose against his hands, fingers woven together. He was about to start rocking on the balls of his feet and Aubrey took a step toward him, stopped when Jax set a hand on her arm. I jumped from Will’s shoulder, using Jax’s comfy chair as a springboard, and landed in front of Hyrum.


They’re not trying to be mean.


“Is David scared, Wick? You saw. Was he scared? Is he okay?”


He was fine. When we left, he was hugging you and talking about donuts. 


Hyrum’s voice dropped to a whisper. “But I’m old there, Wick. What if I’m not there for enough years to make sure he’s okay? If Kaley doesn’t go live with him he’s gonna need someone who loves him.”


“Sweety,” Aubrey said, “he has us, too.”


“But you’re even older and we didn’t think about that and David isn’t old.”


I stood on my back legs, set my paws on his knees, and broke one of Will’s cardinal rules.


Your story doesn’t end for a long time, dude. That Hyrum will keep an eye on David as long as he needs one. David will be an old man for a long time before you reach the last chapter in your story.


He sniffed. “I have a story?”


We all do. Yours is a good one.


“What’s yours called?”


Well, it probably would have been The Neverending Story but someone beat me to the title. 


“What’s mine?”


‘Bacon and Donuts and Bikes and Things.’


Come on, let’s go to the bakery and do some research. You can tell me things you want your other self to know about David, and I’ll tell him later when I visit Lux.


 With another sniff, he nodded, and picked me up as he stood. And as we headed out, he uttered the three little words that made Jax extremely proud.


“Okay. You’re buying.”



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